Saving Face in China

So saving face might sound like something like keeping a poker face and not “tipping your hand” in a negotiation in the context of business. However, in China the concept is not quite so simple. Before understanding the importance of saving face a quick reminder that Chinese society has a HIGH POWER DISTANCE according to Hofstede. That means hierarchy and where you stand in an organization has more significant meaning than by normal American standards.

So, knowing who holds the power in the room as well as the appropriate way to interact with them could make or break a deal? Specifically, saving face is really about showing the utmost respect for those you are interacting with in a business transaction. Adhering to these social norms could be the difference between sealing a deal and flying back home with no contract signed. Here are 5 examples of seemingly simple interactions that hold great significance when interacting with a business contact in China. This is by no means an exhaustive list. But it does showcase how learning about these seemingly insignificant interactions can have a great impact on your success in China.

1.Using two hands (not one) to exchange business cards. 

2. Giving a gift to a Chinese business partner (Clif notes: make sure its from your company’s country)

3. The timing of the gift exchange (Clif notes: After a deal is struck so it doesnt look like a bribe)

4. Keep composure. (Convey appreciation with a polite thank you, instead of displaying excitement openly.)

5. If you are a drinker there are too many rules of etiquette to list here. Just read the linked blog post.

My point in the concept of saving face  (specifically in China) is this: Do some research on the culture before traveling to ensure that you don’t offend your contact. A little time digging in the short run could have some a great return on investment if you avoid some major missteps.