Business Etiquette in China: Having Good Guanxi and Mianzi

Understanding International Small Business Culture

When many small business owners think about finding good international suppliers for their business, China is typically at the top of the list. But the language and cultural differences can seem like a lot to overcome if this is your first foray into the international market.

The key to success in China is understanding the two main factors that drive their business culture. Both guanxi and mianzi are unique concepts that influence not only how business is done, but also how the parties regard one another along the way. Without having either, you could be in a poor position in negotiations, or some people may choose not to work with you at all.

Here are the two concepts of business etiquette in China and how you can make them work for you.

Guanxi (Relationships)

To do business well in China you need to have good guanxi. Socializing is a large part of Chinese culture, and it has a massive impact on how people conduct business. In fact, many Chinese businesses will choose to work with people and business that they get along with rather than the strongest option. Guanxi is the principle that drives the cultivation of these relationships. In fact, the Chinese believe these relationships need to be cultivated daily.

Many Chinese businesses will choose to work with people and business that they get along with rather than the strongest option

If you’re in America you can’t necessarily drop by to see your supplier or share a meal with them. However, you can do things that help maintain guanxi without making regular trips to China

  • Meet them face-to-face at least once. While you don’t have to make regular trips, you should get on a plane once to meet the people in China you do business with. You’ll be surprised at much easier negotiations go when you’ve spent some time with them.
  • Check in regularly. If you know it’s an important date for you business partner, like a holiday or festival, give them a call or send them an email. Showing them that you remember and care about them outside of business.
  • Ask your supplier for referrals. If you’re looking for another business connection, go to your current supplier first. They will most likely refer you to someone they have a relationship with to address your needs. This makes you an even bigger part of the network, therefore you have more guanxi.
  • Reciprocate when you receive something. If you’re supplier goes out of there way for you, make sure you return the favor. That’s how good guanxi works. It doesn’t mean you have to bend over backwards for them, it should be proportional to what they did for you. And it doesn’t have to be right away. But good guanxi dictates that you don’t allow your relationship to be a one-way street.

Mianzi (Reputation and Face)

Mianzi, or face, is all about how the people around you perceive you. However, you’re not solely in charge of your own Mianzi. The people around you and connected to you can also cause you to gain or lose face.

Because of the importance of guanxi, you must always have good face. Chinese culture is very hierarchical, and to show you understand that you need to treat the people around you with the appropriate amount of respect. There are distinct differences between leaders or managers in China and the people that work for them. Therefore you always need to show the highest ranking person respect and give them face.

As a potential client, you will probably receive a lot of mianzi when are looking for a potential business partner. They are showing you face to prove that they are worthy of your business. They can do this through words or compliments, or even through gifts.

If you’re conducting meetings in China, be aware that everyone with you can affect whether you gain or lose face. If a member of your team does something disrespectful, you will lose face because of their actions. Simultaneously, if they’re presenting something and credit you with helping them to achieve it, you will gain face.

If you’re conducting meetings in China, be aware that everyone with you can affect whether you gain or lose face

It’s more complicated than simply being nice to people, but you can’t go wrong by showing people respect. If you feel someone is giving you face, try and return it. But don’t get so caught up in complimenting them and trying to win them over that you forget about guanxi. You’re working toward a long term relationship with your supplier, not simply making them feel good.

How Veem Can Help Guanxi and Mianzi

One of the best ways to show your suppliers respect and to show them that you care about them is to pay them promptly and without issue. By using Veem, you can track your payment to insure your supplier has received it. Not only that, but when you send payments through Veem, it takes less time and are cheaper than your traditional bank. Sign up for an account and make sure you keep your suppliers happy.

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