Communicating across cultures always proves a challenge in international business; a fact as evident in China as anywhere else. Here are some points to keep in mind to help your company improve its ability to communicate in China.
Build an international team
The study of the English is booming in China with some estimates claiming that China has more English speakers than any other country. However, while there are many Chinese people who can understand English, it is less common to find individuals that are at ease conversing with Westerns. At the same time, there has been a surge in native English speakers in China learning Mandarin. As with their English learning, Chinese counterparts, not all of these students achieve fluency in Chinese. However, a growing number of them develop strong Chinese skills. Based on our experience, if you want to ensure that business information is clearly communicated between your company and your business associates in China, you should build an international team of native Chinese speakers who understand English and native English speakers who understand Chinese. With their complimentary language skills, they can work together to ensure that business information is correctly translated and presented in a way so that it can be easily understood by US and Chinese companies in their native languages.
Maintain Regular Communication
Your company should have a full-time team in China which can maintain regular contact with customers and relevant government agencies. While e-mail communication alone may suffice when doing business with other countries, in China it is often necessary follow-up with phone calls or personal visits to develop your business. In addition, even though young Chinese can be very tech savvy, those who are 50 or older may not be comfortable using email and prefer to communicate by telephone or fax.
One of our clients, which exports to over 50 countries, has found that in almost any other country email will be sufficient for their business communication. However, in China they are never fully confident communicating only via email. Instead, they prefer to have someone in China who can communicate with their potential and current customers in person.
Identify Decision Makers
When doing business with large Chinese companies, state-owned enterprise (SOEs), and government agencies it is crucial to know who the key players and decision makers are in these organisations. Since large Chinese organisations tend to be highly bureaucratic and hierarchical, key business decisions are often made by a few high-ranking officials. Therefore, if your company has a meeting with a Chinese organisation it is important that you are meeting with the key decision makers in order to achieve your business goals. Otherwise, you may only meet with mid-level officials, who may have impressive sounding titles, but little influence over actual business decisions. Meeting with the wrong people can lead to significant delays in achieving your business goals. However, if you are able to meet with key decision makers and gain their support you will find that you may be able to accomplish your goals faster than expected because of support from the top. Due to their experience and knowledge of Chinese business culture, local Chinese staff with experience in your industry is of great value in identifying who the key decision makers are within Chinese business and government organisations.
Have Multiple Contacts
To maintain effective business communication, your company should also develop multiple contacts within key Chinese business, SOEs, and government agencies which with you intend to do business. As discussed above, large Chinese organisations can be quite bureaucratic and information about them is not easily accessible. To gain a strong understanding of how the organisation operates it is valuable to have multiple contacts within various divisions. Additionally, having multiple contacts will enable you to better understand the company’s internal culture, goals, and key decision makers.
Mr. Goh is President and Mr. Sullivan is Director of Business Development and Communications at US-Pacific Rim International, Inc. (www.us-pacific-rim.net). If you have questions, comments, or would like to learn more about USPRI you can contact Mr. Sullivan at [email protected]
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