Belgian-Chinese Chamber of Commerce (BCECC)

BCECC Newsletter: Practical tips when communicating with Chinese people

In our previous article we explained the fundamentals of Chinese business culture and communication, focusing on ‘Guanxi’ and ‘Face’. Communicating effectively in China’s business environment requires a good understanding of cultural norms and practices. In this article we give a few practical tips to enhance successful interactions with Chinese business people.

Respect for hierarchy

Understanding the hierarchy and roles of your Chinese counterparts is crucial. Before any meeting, familiarize yourself with the names and titles of everyone present. This demonstrates respect and allows you to address people appropriately, reinforcing their status within the company. In Chinese culture, acknowledging someone’s position is a sign of respect and can significantly impact the outcome of your interactions.

Formal introductions

Initial meetings are typically formal. Start with a firm handshake, and always present and receive business cards with both hands as a sign of respect. It is customary to spend a few moments examining the card before putting it away, signalling that you value the connection. In recent years business cards have become less important, more and more it is replaced by connecting with your Chinese counterparts by exchanging WeChat IDs.

Meeting etiquette

Being on time is crucial in Chinese business culture. Punctuality reflects respect for the other party’s time and is seen as a sign of professionalism. Arriving late can be interpreted as disrespectful and can negatively impact the relationship.

Clear and simple presentations

When presenting your ideas or proposals, simplicity and clarity are vital. A straightforward presentation, ideally translated into Chinese, can bridge language barriers and ensure your message is understood. Using visual aids can also enhance comprehension. This not only shows respect for their language but also helps in avoiding misunderstandings. Remember, your goal is to communicate your message effectively, not to impress with complex jargon.

It’s OK to exaggerate

In Chinese business culture, modest exaggeration is acceptable and can be seen as a sign of enthusiasm and confidence in your product or service. Highlighting the strengths and unique selling points of your offering more vigorously can create a positive impression. However, ensure that any claims made are still rooted in truth to maintain credibility.

Bring your own interpreter

While many Chinese business professionals speak English, especially in international settings, having materials translated into Mandarin Chinese can demonstrate respect and commitment. Additionally, learning a few basic Mandarin phrases can help break the ice and show your willingness to engage with their culture.

Having your own interpreter who is well-informed in your products and strategy is highly recommended. An interpreter familiar with your business can convey your message more accurately and with the right emphasis, especially if you are in a negotiation. This ensures that the subtleties and nuances of your communication are not lost in translation, and helps in managing any cultural misunderstandings that might arise.

Use simple words and short sentences

To avoid miscommunication, use simple language and concise sentences. Complex vocabulary and long-winded explanations can create confusion. The goal is to make your message as clear and straightforward as possible, ensuring that everyone around the table can follow and understand your points easily. Remember: if a Chinese person doesn’t understand what you are saying,, he or shethey may not tell you, as they don’t want to offend you or don’t want to show weakness and lose face because they have to admit that they don’t understand.

That’s why it’s essential to verify that your message has been understood correctly. After explaining key points, ask questions to confirm comprehension and encourage feedback. This can help identify any misunderstandings early on and allows you to clarify immediately, ensuring that everyone is on the same page.

Indirect communication

Chinese communication tends to be more indirect compared to the Western style. This means that messages may be conveyed subtly and contextually, often requiring reading between the lines. Direct refusals are rare; instead, look for less obvious cues, such as hesitation or ambiguous responses, which might indicate disagreement or reluctance.

Gift giving

Although not common in Western business practices, gift giving is prevalent in China. Gifts should be modest and not overly extravagant to avoid any perception of bribery. When giving a gift, it’s polite to present it with both hands, and similarly, receive gifts with both hands.

Negotiation tactics

Negotiations in China can be a lengthy process. Chinese professionals often prefer to build trust and a solid relationship before finalizing deals. Rushing through this process can be counterproductive and can be seen as a lack of interest in forming a long-term partnership, which might jeopardize potential partnerships. Demonstrating patience and persistence can go a long way. Therefore, in case your Chinese counterpart invites you for a banquet or for other ‘entertainment’, you may as well accept this invitation and see this as an opportunity to build a basis of trust.

Collective decision-making

Decisions in Chinese companies are often made collectively. During negotiations, it might seem like progress is slow as your counterparts consult internally. Understand that this is part of their process, and pressing for quick decisions can be counterproductive.

Win-win approach

Chinese negotiators often seek mutually beneficial outcomes. They value harmony and long-term cooperation over short-term gains. Emphasizing how both parties will benefit can facilitate smoother negotiations and stronger partnerships.

Control your emotions

Maintaining composure is critical in Chinese business settings. Displaying strong emotions, whether frustration or excitement, can be perceived as unprofessional. Keeping your emotions under control demonstrates self-control and respect for the formal nature of business interactions in China.

Share your WeChat

WeChat is an essential communication tool in China, widely used for both personal and professional interactions. Sharing your WeChat ID with your counterparts is a practical way to stay connected. It facilitates quick communication, helps in building a rapport, and keeps you engaged with your contacts in a culturally relevant manner.


Navigating the complexities of communication with Chinese business professionals requires an understanding of cultural subtleties and a respectful, patient approach. Building strong relationships, being mindful of hierarchical and cultural norms, and adapting to their communication style can pave the way for successful business endeavours. By investing time and effort into understanding these nuances, you not only enhance your chances of success but also demonstrate your respect and commitment to your Chinese counterparts, fostering enduring and fruitful business relationships.

Please contact the Belgian-Chinese Chamber of Commerce (BCECC) in case you need more information.