A Quick Reminder on Doing Business in China

Today, representatives from one of my org’s major foreign donors came to visit our project site in Kunming. We had diligently gathered various local partners and friends of our projects at the site to meet the VIP donors and it mostly went very well, with everyone shaking hands and making nice with one another despite the language barriers.

The exception to this was one of the VIP donors, who met with a roomful of our local partners and, for some mysterious reason, kept her back to the partners in half of the room for the whole visit. She didn’t look them in the eye and didn’t address questions to them, and left the meeting without appearing to notice what might be wrong with this strategy.

After she left, the Chinese staff were in an uproar about how unbelievably rude this was and made hearty apologies to the local partners, explaining that she’s just a foreigner and foreigners clearly don’t understand how to interact with Chinese people.

(Personally, I think this would have been rude anywhere in the world, but considering the absolute importance of building relationships in order to get anything done in China, it was a particularly bad move over here. I saw a government official storm out of a conference room once because a foreign visitor hosting the meeting had failed to introduce the official with appropriate pomp.)

Some of our staff members approached me after this meeting to let me know that they would be buying lots of fruit and gifts to send to these partners ASAP, in order to salvage the relationship. So my little lesson to you today is this: if you’re considering doing business in China, assume that everyone you meet is an important partner deserving of your respect (or at least your eye contact for goodness sake…).

At the very least you’ll save yourself the cost of a whole lot of fruit.

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