2 MAJOR Cultural Quirks When Importing from China (Mianzi & Guanxi)

11K views | Aug 14th, 2017 |

When working with Chinese suppliers, there are 2 major Chinese cultural quirks you need to know about when importing from China.

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When working with Chinese suppliers and importing from China, there are two major cultural quirks and differences that you need to know about. These cultural differences can cause a lot of problems and can sometimes result in our cultures being at odds against each other:

* They can result in delays.

* They can cause communication mishaps/breakdowns.

* They can result in low-quality orders.

* And they can impact the price you can successfully negotiate with your supplier. Instead of getting the lowest possible price you can could, you end up paying a higher price.

Cultural Quirk #1 when Importing from China: Mianzi (i.e. Face)

In China there is a concept called Mianzi. The word Mianzi roughly translates to honor in English. It is the concept of “having face.” It is a complex element on their culture and it can make or break business deals.

In Western countries, we use the phrase “losing face” a lot – it means that someone was embarrassed. It a phrase that we adopted from China. In Western nations, no one likes to lose face, but the results of it are much more severe in China.

The reason for this is that Chinese society is built on a strong hierarchal system. People expected to be treated a particular way based on their standing in their hierarchy.

Something else to keep in mind is that, in China, if you cause someone to lose face, it is not just them that is humiliated and embarrassed – you are too. If you cause someone to lose face by embarrassing them, then people will potentially view you as a “dangerous” individual to interact with, since if you caused one person to lose face, then your disregard for social norms means you will likely cause others to lose face – with makes you risky to interact with. It can cause you to be socially ostracized.

When it comes to working with Chinese suppliers, if you want to keep communication lines open, then you should avoid doing anything that would cause this. Here are 2 tips:

Tip #1: Avoid saying no

In China, individuals and businesses will avoid saying “no” as this is considered embarrassing to both parties and would cause both to lose face. Instead of saying “no” suppliers will give you answers like “maybe” – which essentially is a polite way of saying no.

Tip #2: Avoid getting angry

If you encounter something frustrating with your supplier, sending an angry email is not going to help the situation – it is going to hurt it. Try to keep your communication with them positive. If you get angry, you risk having them avoid you.

Here are 2 tips for helping people gain face and thus increasing communication and trust between you and your supplier:

Tip #1: Complement regularly

Compliments are expected when doing business, so if given the opportunity compliment both your contact you are working with and the company itself.

Tip #2: Exaggerate a little

In Chinese culture, “great” means “good”, “good” means “okay” and “okay” means not OK. This is because in communication, people exaggerate as a compliment to others. Try to keep this in mind when communicating with your supplier.

Cultural Quirk #2 when Importing from China: Guanxi – i.e. Relationships

In English, the word “guanxi” roughly translates to “relationship.” It is another complex yet important element to Chinese culture, and it results in business deals being handled very differently to how we handle them in the West.

In Western countries, we tend to choose our business relationships/partnerships based on who will give us the best ROI. If we were looking for a manufacturer, we would go to each supplier, get proposals and quotes, and select the best supplier based off of that data.

In China it is extremely common to choose your business partnerships based off previous relationships as priority is given to contacts you have built guanxi with. Building guanxi doesn’t just involve having successful business relationships with someone: it involves building a personal relationship with them.

If you try to build this with your contact at your factory, you’ll have a much easier time negotiating prices, deals and contracts. Here are 3 tips to help you do that:

Tip #1: If you get the chance, try to talk to your contact about more than just business.

Tip #2: Try to open conversations with small talk.

Tip #3: Avoid negative language so that you don’t cause them to lose face.

If you have any questions, please be sure to leave them in the comments section.

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