The Gentleman’s Guide To Business Etiquette

The essence of business etiquette is all about social interaction and building up relationships with people. When moving in the world of business, it is the people that you have influenced that can mean the difference between success and failure, so by maintaining a good social network you are simply maximizing your business potential. Creating a comfort zone around yourself through effectivepresentation and making the people around you feel comfortable will undoubtedly lead to mutual trust which will help you market yourself better. In order to improve your business etiquette, you need to work on two things that are dependent upon your self-conduct: you need to minimize misunderstandings and always considr the interests and feelings of other.

The nuances of business etiquette vary from place to place, so the international business person needs to learn the customs of each country he does business in. To help in this regard, here is the gentleman’s guide of the basics that apply to all countries that should help smooth your way forward and enable you to conduct business with a modicum of decorum, no matter what situation or country you find yourself in.


The way you conduct and carry yourself will tell the people you deal with the kind of character you possess and will most likely influence whether they trust you enough to form a business relationship with you. Therefore, you need to foster positive traits within yourself in order to promote better business.


If you have a reputation for achieving what you say you will, it will demonstrate your integrity, which is one of the key things that all successful businesses require. However, be mindful of the speed with which a good reputation is tarnished or lost and be sure to put energy into maintaining it at all times. By knowing the particular peculiarities by which a country does business, you can anticipate the requirements that they would need and be able to forge better agreements and contracts.


Always be aware of your surroundings and make sure that you think before you speak. Nothing can be more devastating to a business venture than a thoughtless word. Be careful and consider the amifications of all your actions to avoid disaster.


First impressions are always the most important and dressing appropriately is a great way to leave a good first impression. By presenting yourself appropriately, you show that you are conscious of the importance of image – something that most businesses are interested in. It will also raise you above the crowd if you are one of the few who knows how to market themselves properly. Business etiquette will teach you what you need to do and what you need to avoid in social situations.

Business Customs Of The Country You Are Doing Business With

It is important to understand the business customs and culture of the country you are planning to do business with. This is something a lot of business owners tend to overlook. A lot of time is spent on market research and establishing contacts in the country. Whilst all these are important these alone are not enough. Understanding business customs will teach you about the business beliefs, business practices and motives and expectations of the country you are doing business with. With this knowledge you can shape your approach the right way and reap maximum benefits.

If you are not aware of the culture and the customs of the country you are dealing with then you might accidentally offend the people you are dealing with. You might not even be aware that you are doing this. You might think that you are doing business as normal but some of the practices you are accustomed to might not be okay with people in other countries. And we know that we all do business with people we like. So by offending people however good your deal or offer is you might lose out.

Body language also plays an important role. People in different countries interpret body language signs differently. So it is important that we don’t convey the wrong message or interpret the wrong message and in the process offend someone accidentally.

The ways the topics are discussed in a meeting are also different. In some countries the participants come straight to the point. In other countries it could be different.

If the language spoken in the country you are dealing with is different to the language you know then understanding their business etiquette becomes even more important. It might not be possible to learn the entire language but you can try to learn a few words (just to impress the other party). You should also consider hiring an interpreter or take someone you trust along with you to the meetings and other negotiations.

Documentation plays an important role in all business transactions. Something that might be assumed normal and does not require to be mentioned in writing in some countries might not hold true for other countries. In some countries you might need to get everything in writing. And the way you say it in writing is also important.

Some of the business transactions might not involve you to set up a base in the foreign country. You might actually do most of your negotiations and deals over the phone. Just because it’s over the phone don’t think you don’t need to understand the business culture of the country you are dealing with. Understanding the business practices and business customs and business beliefs of the country you are dealing with is a small investment of your time when compared to the benefits you will reap and the frustrations you will avoid.

You can now outsource a lot of your project management and business processes to countries like India and China. The employees of the businesses which handle your projects and business processes actually spend a lot of hours of training in the western business culture. The management realizes that this training is small investment towards maintaining good relations with their western counterparts. Similarly if you were going to do business in India or for that matter with any other country you should also spend some time understanding their business customs. This knowledge is the core foundation of all your business dealings with that country.

Doing Business In China

Local Currency: The name of the currency is Renminbi (RMB), the unit is the Yuan (CNY) in much the same was as the name of the UK currency is Sterling and the unit is the Pound (GBP). The Yuan is usually referred to as the Kwai (as Pound is referred to as ‘quid’ or US Dollar as ‘buck’).

China (official name People’s Republic of China) is one of the world’s most rapidly growing economies, with GDP growth figures around 9% per annum since the mid 90’s.

Doing business with China can seem daunting for those new to the market, but a strategic approach is essential to making the process manageable and hopefully enjoyable. China is, for many of us, ‘alien and difficult’ the language, culture and vastness of the country, together with the culture shock that many Western business visitors face being deadline-driven and unwilling to slow down to the Chinese pace when discussing business. Preparation is key to success: so read up on the country, seek advice from those who have been there before, conduct market research and ask questions from those in the know. In China, as anywhere else, it is good business practice and common sense to know whom you are meeting and to take an active interest in cultural and social factors that influence thinking and business decisions.

Here are some special considerations that apply to China.

Making Contacts

Whenever possible, obtain an introduction. Connections and relationships, known as guanxi (pronounced gwan shee) are very important. Guanxi is probably the most important single asset of any foreign business in China. The right connections can ensure you an attentive audience for your proposal and subsequent interactions. Guanxi also incorporates an element of graft, for those who have the connections will often try to profit from them. Guanxi creates an interdependency between the two parties because favours received must be reciprocated at some future time.
If you are representing a well known international company, you can send a letter to the senior most person in a Chinese company in which you state your purpose for contacting him or her. However, for the smaller business guanxi will give you the right connections.

When sending an initial letter it is a good idea to have the letter translated into Chinese. It is not necessary to translate everything you send to China. Make sure there is sufficient interest at the other end before you translate your literature, because translation costs can be expensive.

You should hire a local representative or consultant to monitor deals and relationships in your absence and to maintain a constant presence for your company in China. This is particularly important if you are sourcing from or selling to China. Be aware of the expectation, certainly in the past, that there will be a middle-man or broker, and this could even be the hired interpreter. It is important to be comfortable with your hired” help. When hiring a local representative, be sure to carefully check references and obtain a list of former and current clients.

Once you have decided to visit China, either you, your counterpart, or local representatives should schedule meetings for you at least one to two weeks in advance of your arrival. Before your arrival, make your accommodation requirements known to your business contact. This can be particularly important if you represent a small firm with a limited budget. The Chinese tend to believe that foreigners, particularly Westerners, are wealthy and can afford to pay for all services. Arrangements may be made without consulting you and you may be overwhelmed with hospitality. You should feel comfortable in politely declining any service you do not want.

Foreign visitors can be surprised to discover that their Chinese business contact will make an effort to keep them entertained at all times. In China, a host’s responsibility includes fulfilling needs and ensuring comfort, care and protection of their guests. If you wish to spend some time alone, indicate so politely.

Business Meetings and Business Etiquette

Jackets and ties or equivalent female attire should be worn for meetings, and when invited out for dinner.

Chinese usually greet one another with a slight bow or nod of the head and introductions are usually made in order of seniority. In business and with foreigners, a handshake is common upon greeting and departure.

Business cards, called name cards (ming pian) by the Chinese, are presented when everyone first meets. They should be given and received with both hands as a sign of respect. The business card is considered to represent the person to whom you are being introduced so it is polite to study the card for a while and put it away somewhere safe. Take ample supplies as almost everyone you meet will want to exchange one with you. If possible, your cards should be bilingual even if the people you are meeting read and write English.

Arriving early for a meeting indicates respect for the host. Although the Chinese are not always on time, punctuality is viewed as a positive asset in others.

Chinese pride themselves on holding their feelings inside. Therefore they may not smile at a first greeting or as often as people in other Asian countries.

There are about one hundred widely used family names. The 10 most common Chinese surnames are Zhang, Wang, Li, Zhao, Chen, Yang, Wu, Liu, Huang and Zhou. Although many surnames may have similar pronounciation, the Chinese characters can be different. When addressing people, remember the family name precedes given names. For example, Mr Li Hongjun should be addressed as Mr Li. Avoid calling a Chinese person by their given name alone unless specifically invited to do so. It is currently fashionable to address a younger woman as ‘Miss’ and an obviously older woman as ‘Madame.’ Married women rarely take their husband’s family name. Many Chinese adopt given names, many of which are Western. Official and occupation related titles, such as Dr., Mayor, Ambassador, are used wherever appropriate.

An increasing number of younger Chinese managers and government officials speak some English but formal meetings and negotiations may require the services of an interpreter, unless you choose to use a telephone interpreter service such as chinaONEcall (web & contact details at the foot of this article).

Chinese have a high regard for rank and seniority. The Chinese will be impressed and are usually more attentive to senior representatives of foreign firms. Ranking your company can help to impress the Chinese, especially if you are one of the largest or oldest.

It is important to establish a smooth business relationship and friendship. Trust and cooperation are key. Meetings often begin with small talk over tea, with topics including the weather and your recent travels, before moving on to more serious issues. It is important to be patient. The Chinese tend to maintain a level of formality in the early stages of a relationship. This fosters respect for each side and ensures that contacts will proceed harmoniously. To become informal too quickly or to get down to business too quickly would upset the balance the Chinese require to develop a meaningful business and personal relationship. It is advisable to avoid discussing Chinese politics and human rights issues.

Gifts are not required or expected at initial meetings. You may present a small sample of your company’s product or an item with a corporate logo. However, anything more elaborate or expensive will be inappropriate.


Due to the vastness of China, different Chinese have varying business styles. The Cantonese tend to be more westernized due to Hong Kong influences and constant contact with Western traders. They are more accustomed to doing business with foreigners and are more efficient. However, Cantonese business people can often be more adamant about having things their own way and so foreigners should be firm about their position in a negotiation.

Chinese usually conduct business over lunch and dinner, and deals are often concluded over a meal. Entertaining is a critical part of Chinese business culture.

Chinese pay a great deal of attention to detail. Most negotiations are divided into two phases: technical and business issues. The Chinese will utilize their technical experts to focus on the technical phase until they are satisfied with basic issues or quality and usefulness. Make sure to include at least one technical expert in your negotiation team.

Chinese often hesitate to provide information out of concern that someone will use it against them. Use mutual contacts to assist if you are concerned about establishing trust and credibility with your Chinese counterpart, if negotiations stall, or you encounter disagreements.

Government officials who are responsible for negotiating deals often do not have the authority to commit financial resources. Be flexible and creative in your approach, but do not lose sight of your business interests. Even small changes to existing agreements cannot be made without the approval of senior officials.

Chinese do not like to say no or to be the bearers of negative news. They will hint indirectly in conversation. Similarly, you will hear a yes response to almost everything. You should be careful of these empty affirmations, as it may not always draw positive conclusions. Verify what has been said to you. If you think the answer to an issue is really no, verify your feeling by asking questions that can be answered positively. It is important that all parties maintain “face”.

The concept of “face” is an essential component of the Chinese national psyche. It’s a similar concept to respect” and the Chinese are acutely sensitive to gaining and maintaining face in all aspects of social and business life. If someone makes a mistake or is humiliated, they lose face. If they do something right or get complimented, they gain face, so let your Chinese colleague speak English, compliment them, ask after their family, comment on their office or house and DO NOT contradict a Chinese person publicly. It’s a good idea to increase your face so take a prospective business associate out to a smart restaurant and pay the bill!

Be prepared for tough negotiations. Adhere to your principles and objectives. Maintain a quiet and dignified manner. Losing your temper can lead to a loss of face for both sides. If problems develop, be firm about your limits and willingness to work with your counterparts to find a mutually agreeable solution.

Business Hours

Most of China’s business community slows down considerably during the spring festival in late January and early February. There are further holidays during the first week of May and first week of October. Business visitors would be wise to avoid these holiday periods.

In most cities in China, businesses, state corporations and government offices are usually open Monday to Friday and every other Saturday from 8 am to noon and from 1:00 / 2:00 pm to 5:00 / 6:00 pm. China has a five and a half day workweek consisting of 44 hours.

Business Shine

Networking, cocktail parties and business lunches are an important part of our everyday working life. Being at ease in these situations and behaving in the most appropriate manner doesn’t always come easily to everyone. It pays to perfect some of these social skills if you’re looking to get ahead in your career.

The way we present ourselves especially in social situations says a lot about us. We may come across as insecure or lacking in confidence if we bumble through introductions at a networking event. Our lack of table manners could raise the eyebrows of the all-important client you’re trying to do business with. Perhaps having a few too many drinks at a networking function is not a good idea especially if you end up telling a client what you really think about him or her.

As business entrepreneurs, we’re busily attending functions, meetings and networking events to woo and win clients and customers. We’ve learned sales and negotiating skills to help secure business, proposal writing, marketing, publicity and a host of other “tools” to help us in our business life, but what about the softer skills or the intangible elements of the work relationship that may help us land the deal?

Personal public relations can go a long way toward achieving the success you desire in your business life. After all PR is really “relationships” with your “public”.

One way of achieving personal PR success is to be aware of appropriate business etiquette. Most of us learned basic table manners around the dining room table as we were growing up but with our modern take-away, fast food lifestyle, some of our earlier learning may have gone out the window. So let’s look at a few do’s and don’ts for acceptable behaviour at a business lunch.

* If you’re taking a client to lunch you pay – the one who is likely to benefit the most from the business should pay. Leave your credit card with the cashier beforehand or politely excuse yourself before the end of the meal and settle the bill.

*Shaking hands is the accepted greeting. If it’s a male/female lunch avoid the kiss on the cheek unless you know each other very well. It’s best to keep the relationship business like.

*Recommend the restaurant and if possible book a table in a good position – away from the kitchen or restrooms. Have the client in the best seat facing into the restaurant or toward the view.

*Recommend food choices you may have had previously and perhaps something that may be expensive on the menu so they feel comfortable with that choice. Be guided by their choices. For example don’t order dessert if they are not having it and expect them to wait while you finish off a piece of chocolate cake.

*Don’t get drunk or drink too much. Also don’t smoke if your client doesn’t.

*Don’t wave your knife and fork around like a conductor, or use the wrong utensils. Your bread & butter plate will be on the left while your wineglass will be on the right near the tip of your knife. Observe basic good manners, such as not talking with your mouth full!

*Start the lunch off with some small talk first. Although you are there to discuss business, bring it up after eating the entree.

The idea of a business lunch is to build rapport and a relationship with your client. It’s not so much about the food or wine but more about making them feel happy and comfortable with the time they’ve spent with you.