It is no secret that China is a major leader in the World Trade Organization and that they share many differences in their business customs. Understanding these distinct differences is very important in building strong relationships with anyone from this powerful country. Below are key cultural differences to take into account when doing business in China. 


Patience will go a long way for Westerners doing business in the Chinese culture. Losing one’s patience could cause one’s Chinese counterpart to “lose face.” The Chinese prefer to do business with people they feel comfortable more comfortable with. Chinese style of communicating is non-confrontational, and more passive than direct. At times it can be difficult understanding what they mean solely based on the words they use.

In the Chinese culture producing overt conflicts and situations that embarrass others is considered losing face. Once people lose face, doing business with each other may no longer be an option at that point. To avoid losing face, the Chinese business culture usually will not show their disagreement or dissatisfaction in an obvious way. Instead, we see that will indirectly express such sentiments, for example by using phrases like “maybe” or “we will see.”

Western businesspeople should prepare and be alert for these signals by learning to read these indirect messages. You should also avoid losing your temper or aggressively pushing the Chinese to answer questions they show reluctance to give an answer.

Getting Down to Business

In the United States business is to the point, and often occurs at a much quicker pace than in China. One’s business hours and home life can be seen as very separated. Apart from being on time, which is absolutely vital in China, it is also important to build relationships with people before doing business. The Chinese are reluctant to do business with people they do not feel comfortable with. They usually prefer to begin a business meeting, especially if meeting someone for the first time, with some pleasant small talk.

The Chinese style of building relationships can prolong the time spent on discussing business and making decisions, which may seem frustrating to an American. This culture focuses on long-term commitments for which Chinese expect long-term rewards, in contrast to the United States. Punctuality is also extremely important to the Chinese. In China being late is an extremely rude sign of disrespect, where this is slightly more flexible in the western culture.

In the western culture, Americans would much rather get the job done, and move on to the next thing. Short term rewards. Unlike with the Chinese style of communicating, Americans are far less occupied with the thought of whether they might make someone lose face or not, and more on trying to close a deal.

Management Style

In the United States we find that businesses have a more individualistic culture, which emphasizes individual tasks, goals, and performance. In America, personal achievements and success are still more valuable than your social standing or class. We find the Chinese culture to be more of a collectivist society and valuing seniority significantly more than the United States.

This is one of the explanations between the differences of our management styles. In the west, the ideal manager is a “resourceful democrat,” who sets the vision and strategy for the business but delegates and empowers others to execute.  In the western culture we find that a leader encourages two-way communication with his employees and supports bottom-up input in decision-making.

In China we find a more attention to detail and supervision. The Chinese leader believes in discipline and micromanagement. These managers also spend a lot of time caring for the personal welfare of theiremployees as a part of their job. The Chinese style can be very efficient in carrying out critical tasks and getting quick results. We find that this style also discourages two-way communication and ownership at the lower level.

Western employees may feel that they are not fully trusted to manage their own work. Learning to understand the Chinese group-oriented culture versus individualism and accountability is very important for a successful relationship and business. In order to create a productive partnership, both China and the U.S. must co-adapt to each other. For global organizations expanding to the other country, managing local talents often require creative solutions.