Guanxi and the Importance of Meeting Face-to-Face

Guanxi, translated from Mandarin to English, literally means ‘relationships.’ But in the business world, guanxi refers to the social interactions and influential relationships that help facilitate successful business deals. My MBA colleagues and I learned the importance of establishing this trust during our last semester in the Tulane Freeman School of Business Full-Time MBA program.

As a part of the Global Leadership aspect of the MBA program, we take three international trips, one of which is to China, to work on consulting projects with companies abroad. During the semester, our groups of four to five students establish contact with a company to work on a project remotely in New Orleans and toward the end of the semester, we travel to China to meet the client face-to-face and present our findings and recommendations.

Our project for this course involved working directly with a company in Xiamen, China who was interested in building a stronger presence for their retail products in the U.S. market. Any communications via email or video conference can be difficult, but add in language barriers, cultural differences, and opposite time zones and communication becomes nearly impossible. Our team prepared the best that we could based on the information we had at our disposal.

A few of our group members were unable to travel to China, myself included. So when our group members who did travel returned from the trip, we realized that something had changed. It was evident that their multiple meals together and meeting the client face-to-face vastly improved communications but also built a sense of trust between the client and our Tulane group. We discovered new facts about the company and gained a deeper understanding of the direction the client wanted us to go with the project. The American tendency to just ‘get down to business’ wouldn’t have served us well, which would have negatively affected the outcome of the project for our client. Establishing guanxi opened doors for our team that wouldn’t have existed if we had just continued to work remotely from New Orleans.

Our biggest takeaway for doing business in China: take the time to meet face-to-face, build guanxi, and then get down to business.


Madeline Kirby