Is it relevant to talk about differences between business etiquette in the East and West in our modern world?
Of course. In the Western world, qualities such as proactiveness, entrepreneurship, and uniqueness are valued, but they are not promoted in the Eastern cultures. The ideal Japanese person is someone who respects established rules and doesnt show his or her individuality. The differences between East and West are no less significant than the differences between Eastern countries themselves. Chinese business etiquette differs from Japanese as much as French etiquette. For example, Japanese people are very sensitive to even the slightest show of disagreement between business partners during
negotiations and react to that negatively. In China, its different: if you dont raise your voice, you wont secure special terms and conditions.
Can you tell us about the peculiarities of Chinese etiquette in more detail?
Avoid potentially putting a Chinese person in an awkward situation in front of others. This rule also applies in Japan, so avoid criticism and expressing disagreement, even when it concerns obvious errors. Save everything thats bothering you for a face-to-face, and if your partner is a high-ranking person, it would be good to employ a mediator who can unpick the subtleties of these missions. Hierarchy in Chinese society is very important, so I dont advise speaking to a subordinate if their senior is present. In China, guests are invited to speak first so that they can find out the position of their partner (vice versa in Europe) so that they can do away with general chit chat. Its not worth trying to get any concrete commitments from them in the first round of negotiations. They only make concessions at the very end of negotiations, and even then, any details will have to be confirmed by the director of the company. Having said that, its not improbable that the next day, you might find yourself discussing the same options that you arrived at the previous day. Chinese people are keen on responding quickly to written requests and questions. Its preferable to do it as quickly as possible, and if thats not possible, then they will write to find out when an answer may be expected. Another important thing to mention is when European partners take part in ceremonial events in China...
GILANA MIKHAILOVA, THE DIRECTOR OF THE CENTRE OF INTERNATIONAL PROTOCOL AND CROSS-CULTURAL COMMUNICATION AT THE RUSSIAN PRESIDENTIAL ACADEMY OF NATIONAL ECONOMY AND PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION:
In the Western world, qualities such as proactiveness, entrepreneurship, and uniqueness are valued, but they are not promoted in the Eastern cultures. The ideal Japanese person is someone who respects established rules and doesnt show his or her individuality.
And theres alcohol?
Obviously! The desire to forge relationships over a glass of wine or shot of vodka only works against you if your partners are from the Far East. There have been cases where failing to agree on the wine list while concluding a contract has resulted in negotiations falling apart. Chinese people arent Muslim, so their attitude toward alcohol is very similar to that of Russians. But you need to drink skilfully with Chinese people: local vodka isnt the lightest of drinks.
Do they only drink vodka?
At dinner parties and receptions, you are offered rice wine (Shaoxing), which you are given to drink after a toast, during which you should hold the glass in your right hand and support it with the left. A dinner is an important part of negotiations. More often than not, business matters are decided in restaurants rather than back at the office. In Japan, the situation is a bit more complicated: eye watering budgets are spent on corporate outings to restaurants, and the Japanese expect the same sort of dedication from their Russian partners. As for gifts, if its a corporate gift, you must give it once a contract has been concluded and not to a specific person but the firm in general. Dont give a watch as a gift: in Chinese, the word sounds similar to the word for funeral. Its worth noting that as China has a corruption problem, gifts should be purely symbolic, particularly when they are given to bureaucrats.
What kind of character traits, in your opinion, does a Western person have to possess in order to run a successful business in China?
Patience. You cant establish any kind of business in China quickly. Chinese people are ultimately geared toward long-term relationships, so its not worth rushing them. You mustnt shout or cause a scene if, for example, the good that you ordered hasnt arrived. Chinese people are highly perceptive and know how to manipulate or deceive people. In other words, when maintaining business partnerships in China, be ready for anything, dont rush concluding a contract, and most of all, get yourself an expert guide who understands the local culture.
In Japan, the proper way to present ones business card is with both hands
Such kind of expert would be useful in other countries too?
Definitely. Particularly in Japan and Arab countries, where you have to study the subtleties of communicating for years. The devil is in the details. For example, Japanese people, as well as Chinese people, exchange business cards when they meet, but whereas in China its enough to simply have business cards on you, in Japan, which pocket you take them out of is important (keeping business cards in your pocket without a business card holder and, even worse, in the back pocket of your trousers, is the height of impoliteness), how you reach to take one (always use two hands), the order of the exchange (strictly in order of seniority), etc. Here they also value the business dress code but, in contrast to the Chinese, they dont take off their jackets nor loosen their ties. Hand-shaking is not polite there, nor is bowing politely (mens bows are different to womens bows and people of different statuses also bow in different ways). You should call Japanese (and Chinese) people by their surname, adding san (a suffix which acts as a display of respect to the person in question). They are also extremely scrupulous towards punctuality shown by their partner: its polite to arrive exactly five minutes before the start of a meeting, no earlier or later. If you start gesticulating with your hands during negotiations with Chinese people, they will immediately think that you are uncivilised, as they see this behaviour as a manifestation of stress. Bargaining with the Chinese is appropriate and even allowed, but not with Japanese, as they are likely to accept the sellers price. If youve heard anything along the lines of «its a bit problematic at the moment», «I need to think about that», then you can forget about the project: theyve dropped you. Negotiating with the Japanese is always long-winded because they will analyse the tiniest details, even in one round of negotiations or over several meeting, to iron out any differences of opinion within their own group.
And how soon will people be willing to do business with the Japanese?
You know, if youve worked your way up, the Japanese will be the most devoted partners in the years to come. Even if you start experiencing difficulties, its the Japanese who will give you a hand and support you to the end, even if its not providing them with any benefit. The process of negotiating with Koreans is very different to the Japanese tradition: there are no cues or elusive answers. And if you start negotiating with Indians, I strongly advise that you study the caste system, as well as the dress code, business cards and respect the traditions, that are still very much engrained in the culture: the etiquette requirements will be similar to those in Japan and South Korea. In Hong Kong, I would advise that women dont dress in white or royal blue, reduce tactile contact to zero, avoid winking and dont beckon with their finger as its impolite. In Indonesia, you should never offer or take anything with your left hand, as in other Muslim countries. In Taiwan, you should never touch anyones head. However, in Arabic countries of the East, there are just as many subtleties.
Is there anything that shocks foreigners about Russian norms of behaviour?
Yes, there are things that surprise Eastern and Western business people alike. For example, theres a poor understanding of the hierarchy, dress code and punctuality, not to mention the cues and lack of direct answers, which is not completely removed from what Russians call saving face. Theres also our traditional hospitality, which only the Chinese can truly match, and the specific taste of traditional Russian dishes: dressed herring salad (literally: herring under a fur coat), Olivier salad, borscht, vinaigrette, okroshka, etc.