The arts of the deal

If you wish to be a grand master of business in China, learn these basic techniques.

1. The art of face

Understand the concept of “face.” Self-discipline and order are important. Don't bang the table; don't make demands. Show respect or you'll find your calls going unanswered. Reach consensus without conflict. In China, everybody is supposed to win, and in business that means everyone must walk away from the table feeling successful. You won't succeed trying to get someone over a barrel, so don't. Business is personal. There is a Confucian concept taught in schools that suggests human feeling should never be removed from doing business. Favours are remembered.

2. The art of negotiation

Strategic thinking is a formal discipline in China and as a result the Chinese are among the world's best negotiators. Canadians' competitive advantage is knowledge of North American markets–use that edge. On the other hand, we are considered to be naive in negotiations. So be tough, be prepared and don't give in. Once you make a deal, don't expect to be able to weasel out of it later–you are expected to stick to its terms exactly. Your Chinese counterpart almost certainly will stick to what's in the agreement, but no more.

3. The art of dinner

Don't eat before a dinner meeting, because you are going to be stuffed. If you're ordering, know that it's a mistake not to over-order. It's a loss of face if people leave hungry and there are no leftovers. Offer to pay. If possible, bring a government official along: your Chinese partners will be impressed if you can get an ambassador or other official to show up at your banquet–one that will be held on your arrival and one on departure. There are formal rules for seating arrangements at meetings and banquets based on rank. Find out what they are, or hire someone who knows.

4. The art of the meeting

Know when to do business. The Chinese like to eat on time. If you notice your business partner's attention starting to wander around 11:30 a.m, it's not you–it's that you're eating into lunchtime. That also means no meetings past 6:00 p.m.–or be prepared to continue late-afternooners into dinner. Accept your guest's business card in the proper manner–with two hands and taking note of what it says. Bring a gift. A red ribbon is appropriate, but don't wrap it in white paper, which reminds people of death.

5. The art of bureaucracy

You'll need to get more approvals than you're used to, but the good news is, if you've kept everything in order, it's usually no harder to do than in Canada. Knowing which department to go to is essential. For instance, an economic development bureaucrat's job is to open the country to business, but regulators are the gatekeepers. A common westerners' mistake is to buy into an economic development pitch only to find themselves at odds with regulators later. Different departments, different agendas.

6. The art of the point man

Over the long term, you will need someone within your organization to help navigate the linguistic, cultural and regulatory challenges of business in China. Your point man could be a Chinese-Canadian who speaks the language, or a native Chinese who has lived in Canada; if he hasn't, bring him here to learn about the country and your company, then send him to China after training. He needs to know about you and your culture–both national and corporate; you need someone on the ground whom you can trust.