If you understand “face” you’ll do well in China

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Australian businesses are about to enter an era which will offer one of the greatest export opportunities of our generation. China is one of the world’s fastest growing economies with over 300 million people defined as middle class. Couple this with increasing trade tensions between China and the US, and you have one of the biggest export opportunities for Australian businesses ever thought possible.

Increasing tensions between China and the US means that Chinese consumers are now looking elsewhere, other than the US, to buy products.

Chinese consumers are internet savvy, love Australian products because they see our goods as high quality and produced in well-regulated and clean environments, and their income and desire for western products is increasing.

China’s burgeoning middle class and growing body of cashed up brand conscious millennials comprise one of the biggest spending consumer groups in the world.

Australian businesses, particularly SMEs, have a real opportunity to take advantage of this perfect storm and start exporting to China.

One of the biggest challenges for Australian businesses is understanding the concept of “face”. In Asian culture, face is the core of a person’s being. “Gaining face” drives all kinds of behaviour which might otherwise be considered irrational. To maintain face means to prevent embarrassment or bring shame on a person. “Loss of face” can be devastating for a person of Asian culture.

When doing business with Chinese it is important to ensure you are aware of the importance of face and manage your relationship with your Chinese counterparts to gain face.

If you master the art of face, and pay attention to the behaviour of people around you, you can usually get what you want doing business with Chinese.

I have developed some tips for Australians doing business with Chinese:

  • Seek out and acknowledge opportunities to give face to your Chinese colleagues and partners. Do this by ensuring that they feel respected and appreciated, particularly in public.

  • Always be polite and courteous regardless of the situation.

  • Speak softly, avoid raising your voice or being loud as this is a sign of disrespect in China.

  • Downplay any superiority or status you may have and allow your Chinese counterparts to feel important.

  • Ask good questions and listen to the answers, never interrupt, and be polite.

  • Be as thoughtful, respectful and considerate as possible, as this brings them face in the eyes of others.

  • Never decline an offer from a Chinese person in front of others. Always manage the offer in a way that enables you to discuss the offer in a more private setting.

The concept of face is really all about maintaining a person’s sense of standing among others.  It is a very important element of Asian culture.

In the west, we tend to be more forward and combative in our negotiation style and this is a style which does not work when dealing with Asians. Australians tend to show their respect for people by making fun of them in public! This would be a disaster in Asia.

The Australian China SME Association is holding a luncheon on the topic of face on 27 November. The guest speaker is Labao Wang, Director of the Australia-China Institute for Arts and Culture and a Professor at the University of Western Sydney.

Labao Wang will be sharing his expertise on the topic because, in his words, “face is the core of Chinese culture. If you understand and master it, you can get whatever you want in China”.

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