International Business Relations

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Between Business in China and the United States[edit | edit source]

International business can be a lucrative, but tricky endeavor. Different countries come armed with unique customs, traditions, and laws that can influence their business styles. Becoming antiquated with these traits is vital to success. Not knowing how to properly engage in negotiations or what is expected of a guest can mean the difference between going home with or without a deal. Whenever you do business in another country, it is important to make sure you not only abide by that country's laws, but also by corporate policy. If bribes are customary in the country you are working with but your own company policy refutes bribes, you cannot accept it. However you can accept it on the company's behalf and donate it to charity, that way you are being considerate of the gift giver by not offending anyone. Business is social and the most important thing is to be respectful and aware.

Cultural Differences Between the United States and China as they Relate to Business[edit | edit source]

This is a comparative chart examining the cultural differences between the United States and China within a business context. The table format aims to provide a clear, more efficient means of gathering this information.

United States China
Relationship In the United States, business relations are much more transaction based. Economics usually come first in relations. In China, people do business with others who they know and can trust. Instead of immediately starting business discussions, take the time and get to know your partner. It will pay off in the end.
Negotiations In the United States, the negotiating process is suppose to be short and without too much room to move around. A carefully thought of proposal is the key. In China, negotiations are meant to be back and forth. Chinese businesses often debate in this process. Still think of a good proposal, just prepare for several rounds of negotiating.
Entertainment In the United States, entertaining fellow partners or clients may include meeting for lunch or at the most a golf outing. In China, entertainment is very important for business. Hosting dinners is seen as rather casual and more than appropriate. This is the time you may talk about ideas otherwise not discussed during work hours. This is also a good time to follow up with deals already “informally” agreed upon. Here is the opportunity to build relationships.
Communication In the United States, business people are usually eloquent, candid, and direct. In China, it is not unusual at all for work and work-entertainment setting to be quiet and reserved. Periods of silence do not signify that something has gone awry.
Gifts In the United States, there are only certain scenarios which make gift giving at work appropriate.This may include a holiday party, birthday, or a promotion. It is always implied that you know this person somewhat well before you present them with a gift. In China, gift giving is vital for business. Gifts are a strong part of the business culture and history. Good gifts include symbols of where you are from or something special the person might not have. When giving a gift to an individual, make sure to do it in private. Conversely, when giving a gift to an organization give it to the leader.
Closing the Deal In the United States, signing a contract usually implies immediate business. In China, after a contract is signed, this only signifies the beginning of the deal process. Follow up with your new business partner in the future with detailed action. This is a sign of commitment.
Social Structure In the United States, a social position in a business is very loose and relaxed. One is always encouraged to speak with their superiors. There are very few boundaries that cannot be crossed. In China, social structure is a serious hierarchy in business. There are no crossing lines. Know where you fit and abide by those rules.
Respect In the United States, respect is appreciated but at the same time can be vulnerable to abuse in business. In China, respect is extremely important. It is expected of a business person that they treat their partners and clients with equal dignity.
Business Meals In the United States, it is important to maintain respectable manners while eating and to not come off unappealing. In China, the case is very similar. However, it is considered rude to finish your plate or to sip a whole drink. This can indicate to a host that you are still hungry or thirsty and your mind is elsewhere.

Writing Technical Communication in China and their Cultural Etiquette

Although technology plays a vital role in Chinese businesses today, the field of Technical Communication is still largely unexplored within the country’s industry and academia. When a professional writer chooses to pursue technical writing with such localization in mind, it is important to understand certain processes and procedures that will enable documents to be developed without cultural bias. To do so, one must understand the general writing etiquette in China, the cultural norms that would make international Technical Communication easier, and some challenges that most professional writers in China face.

Important things to keep in mind when working as Technical Communicator in China:[edit | edit source]

  • Harmony versus Freedom of Speech: Chinese writers place a huge emphasis on agreement over truth. They strongly believe that writers should avoid direct confrontation, open criticism and/or controversial topics. This could be challenging for an American writer considering the United States assumes the First Amendment’s “Freedom of Speech”, which allows writers to be as honest and critical as they want, as long as they are speaking on what they personally believe. In China, however, one must be careful to maintain positive “face” while technical writing, as it impacts how the audience will accept the message.
  • Building relationships: While maintaining positive face is important, technical communicators in China also find it critical to build relationships with their business partners before any transactions proceed. They do this by providing small tokens of appreciation and initiating conversations that most other culture’s would consider “personal” and/or “irrelevant to the job”. It is not until after a personal relationship is cultivated that business transactions may follow. This is in part because of the concept of “Gwanxi” and saving face; whereby you favor your friends and they will favor you.
  • The value of teams: In China, there is much higher value placed on collectivism and group collaboration than there is individualism. The Chinese strongly believe that in order to produce efficient and profitable data in Technical Communication, writers have to work as a team while serving each other as well. Unlike most cultures which place emphasis on “freedom”, the Chinese believe that everyone has an obligation to serve both in and out of the work place.
  • History repeats itself: When Technical writing in China, writers must make sure that they focus their research relatively more to the past than they would the future. Chinese cultures believe that time consciousness and learning from the past is more important than incorporating new concepts that nobody has tested/proven.
  • The Demand of Technical Communicators: Technical Communication in China is a concept that many Chinese companies are eager about; China is hungry for technical writers. However, the lack of qualified personnel, comprehensive programs, well-trained communicators and technical communication research, has been a recurring problem in the country. It would be very wise of international technical writers to take advantage of the situation and gain the necessary skills before pursuing technical writing in China. Being skillful in the unexplored field would prove them to be both credible and reliable, which would automatically make them good candidates for the positions.

Writing Technical Communication in the U.S. and Cultural Etiquette[edit | edit source]

With 97 percent of international correspondence being sent in English, English is the language of international business (Martin and Chaney 2012). Although English is the language used most often in technical communication, the customs and etiquette of written communication are always taken into account. As a result, the role of a Technical Communicator in the United States can vary. The variance in the role Technical Communicator in the United States can be attributed to many factors. Such as, the diversity of the U.S., differences in rhetorical situations as well as the workplace environment. Despite the possibility of variance there are some rules that are universal and should always be considered when doing business in the United States.

  • Language and Tone: In contrast to China’s collectivist culture the United States is more individualistic in nature. As a result, the language and tone that American Technical Communicators use differs from what is used in China. For example, American’s are likely to be more direct and consequently are more likely to use the word “you” and often request action. Being direct as a technical communicator in the United States ensures that your message is clear and lowers the chances of your message being misinterpreted by the receiver. Although Technical Communicators in the United States are direct most of the time the tone can be susceptible to change based on the context of a message. For example, when delivering bad news it is polite to communicate in a more indirect fashion.
  • Format: As a Technical Communicator in the United States where the transparency of a message is emphasized the format of a document is important. Across cultures however, the rules for format are different. For example in China text is usually written vertically and is read from right to left. This is completely opposite in United States where text is written horizontally and is read from left to right.
  • Netiquette: Although email has not been completely adopted by non-Western countries having proper email etiquette or what is otherwise known as netiquette is important when corresponding with American business people. Having netiquette is especially important since “email is one of the most important tools of communication today” (Collins 2013). Five essential rules to keep in mind when sending a professional email include having an appropriate subject line, keeping your message direct, using proper capitalization, addressing your recipients appropriately and replying promptly.

Also See

Cultural Issues Affecting International Trade


American vs Chinese Business Culture
Martin, Jeanette S., and Lillian H. Chaney. Global Business Etiquette: A Guide to International Communication and Customs. 2nd ed. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2012. Print.

Dignen, Bob, and Ian McMaster. Effective International Business Communication. London: Collins, 2013. Print.