IDEAS The key to doing successful business with the Chinese is to drink three cups of tea

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Every culture has a different set of beliefs and values that are generally reflected in the way people approach business.

For the Chinese, like many, the utmost importance is placed on trust in a business relationship.

And while that is a common factor for many areas of the world, there is a particular way it is showed and earned in Chinese business dealings.

According to China expert and President of the Australia China SME Association, David Thomas, the key to to doing successful business with the Chinese is to drink tea.

And it’s not just one cup. It’s specifically three.

“The Chinese have been doing business the same way for centuries and they only do business with people they trust,” Thomas says.

“While we all like to do business with people we trust, the reality is that the Chinese have mastered the art of building and maintaining trust through long term relationships.

“They like to get to know the people they do business with. It is imperative for them to understand and like the values, behaviours and style of the people involved and if they don’t, they won’t do business with them.

“In my experience, this involves taking ‘three cups of tea’. While a simple approach, it usually works.”

He goes on to explain his thinking:

The first step in the process is to meet with them and have a cup of tea. A lot can be shared over a cup of tea. As ‘strangers’, this is the first opportunity for everyone to meet, get to know each other and find out how each person thinks and operates. This is not a time to discuss proposals, offers or contracts, this is a time to create good first impressions and to show a genuine interest and curiosity in their culture and environment.

The Chinese build networks of relationships they trust and do business with, and the first step to doing business with the Chinese is to become part of their trusted network.

The second cup of tea involves getting to know each other a little more, becoming ‘friends’. Meeting again reaffirms everyone’s feeling about each other and the long term intent. It gives people the opportunity to develop a sense of what people are like to work with on a consistent basis. It also enables the relationship to move forward. By this stage, people should be getting to know each other a bit more. Confidence and trust should be growing.

And finally the third cup of tea involves taking the relationship to the next level, and becoming part of their extended ‘family’ and inner circle. By this stage, everyone should feel entirely comfortable with each other. Trust should be established. This is the point at which business can be discussed.

Thomas says if these steps are followed, “the relationship has a chance to develop into a successful and rewarding long term business partnership for both parties”.

“As China continues to open up its market to the world and invite businesses from across the globe to sell to their growing middle class, there are significant opportunities for Australian businesses to be part of this opportunity.

“However, in order to do so, businesses and leaders must understand how to work with the Chinese way of doing business.”

More information such as how to negotiate sales, or understanding Chinese hierarchy can be found in Thomas’ ebook Three Cups of Tea.