Managing Relationships in China

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At the recent ACSME Roundtable on 30th January 2018, Vanessa Xing of Think Global Consulting outlined her ideas on how to build and manage long term sustainable relationships with Chinese clients, partners and investors.

1. Take your time

Having lived and worked in Australia for the past 20 years, Vanessa believes that despite growing up in China, she has adopted a "Western approach" to communicating. This means she gets to the point quickly, asks direct and probing questions, moves the conversation quickly to the business objectives, and doesn't waste time on frivolous conversations.

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In the last 5 years she has spent more time working in China and now adopts a more "Chinese" approach to relationship building. This involves long conversations about "non-business" issues, including the weather, the food, families (particularly the hopes and dreams for their children) and the differences between China and other countries. Often business is not discussed at all, or at the very end of a dinner, after all other conversations are exhausted.
It's important to remember that as a foreigner (whether you have a Chinese or western face) you are building familiarity, confidence and more importantly, trust with your Chinese counterparts. This takes time and patience. Build relationships first and the business will follow.

2. Respect Hierarchy

Unlike our egalitarian society, where everyone is treated equally and our organisation structures are “flat”, Chinese people are totally comfortable with a "hierarchical culture". Decisions are made by leaders at the top (whether Government, Business or Family leaders) and are then implemented by senior, middle and junior managers depending on their level of seniority. It's important that you understand this and also respect and recognise everyone's role in the process; particularly the juniors who often get forgotten and are rarely praised for their contribution to a successful outcome. Vanessa always makes a point of singling out the important role played by the implementation team on her visits to China.

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It's also important for Australian organisations to mirror the Chinese hierarchy by lining up the same way. That is. Chairman to Chairman, CEO to CEO and deputies and middle managers with their counterparts. This is critical to getting a deal done because whilst the seniors will make high level decisions, they will only happen if the juniors do the implementation work.

It also requires smaller companies to be creative about how they line up in China, for example, engaging a Non Executive Chairman to be present when the Chinese Chairman is in the room; and to ensure your lower level staff are available to work with the implementation team and to answer their detailed questions.They see their role as protecting their bosses from making decisions without all the facts, so you need to be fully prepared for exhaustive questioning.

3. Be willing to put on a Show

The Chinese are often impressed by the size of your office, the view out of your window, the strength of your team and your brand of car. Don't hide your success from them (as you are likely to do amongst your fellow Australians) but be willing to flaunt it! The Chinese want to deal with successful and influential people, so be a lot more willing to play up your connections and success rather than be humble.

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Of course, you mustn't tell lies or fake your success as this will likely backfire on you. But play to your strengths and Australia's strengths. The Chinese are envious of our lifestyle in Australia, our clean and safe environment and our friendly and open culture. Invite them to come here, show them what we have and repay their hospitality in your home town. Take photographs and share them on WeChat to give ‘face’ and you'll be surprised at how quickly this leads to a successful business outcome!

To attend the next ACSME Roundtable on Tuesday 27th February discussing "Recruitment and Human Resource Management in China", please click here