The ultimate guide to work etiquette

Eight essential tips to build and keep strong working relationships

After paying a visit to China's answer to Miss Manners' – aka Sara Jane Ho's – Chinese business etiquette school Institute Sarita, we realised the importance of learning and understanding the complexities of Chinese manners in the work place. 

We also realised that we've probably come across as pretty rude in the past. So to stop us, and you, making a whole host of office faux pas, we've put together a list of eight key etiquette points that every employer and employee should know. 

To find out more and Sara Jane Ho and Institute Sarita, take a look at our interview with her here
Handshakes
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Handshakes

We’re used to firm handshakes in the West, but in China that’s considered too aggressive. Don’t be offended if you’re offered a wimpy or limp grip. For women, offering your fingertips is just enough as anything more could be considered too forward, or suggestive. Stay away from the chummy pat on the back, air kisses or hugs during formal meetings. It will just be awkward for everyone.

Guanxi (networking)
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Guanxi (networking)

You scratch my back, I scratch yours. Guanxi, or networking, is the foundation of any relationship in China. To get anything done, it’s all about who you know. Reciprocity is key, so be sure to be generous and stock up on your guanxi – you never know when you’ll need them. How do you build up guanxi? Try to baifang (pay your respects) to potential and existing clients – pay them a visit, tour their facilities and show interest. This is often done when you need something, so don’t forget to arrive bearing gifts.

Mianzi (face)
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Mianzi (face)

Be sure to give face, save face and never lose your own face. Think of your face as your identity – it’s all written outside, not from the inner depths of your soul. Shower your guests or employees with compliments in front of people, it will give them immense face. No one ever wants to lose face. If you need to reprimand someone, be sure to do it privately.

Business cards
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Business cards

Think of your card as an extension of your ‘face’ – showing your guests who you are. Be sure to have bilingual cards (English and Chinese) printed and have the correct language facing the recipient when handing them out. Most importantly, use both hands to give and receive cards to show respect. Never deal them out. Spend five to seven seconds reading your guests’ cards and always keep them in front of you if you’re sitting. Never put the cards away, play with them or stuff them in your back pocket, which signifies you’re ‘sitting on their face’, says Ho.

KTV
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KTV

Always have one song ready. Business is not discussed at the dinner table, it’s talked about afterwards, usually in the dark den of a karaoke room. This is your time to shine, build some guanxi and show your lighthearted side. Never, ever, join in on somebody’s song. KTV is not meant for duets, sadly. It’s a solo act with many unwritten rules, so sit down and let your client or colleague hog the limelight for a spell.

Dining manners
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Dining manners

Not sure where to sit? Take a close look at the tables. The VIP table is the biggest, with more ornate tableware. The host and any VIP guests’ seats will be together, facing, but furthest from, the door. Many execs have a ‘designated drinker’ to drink their baijiu shots for them. To toast, stand up and hold your glass with both hands, placing one hand underneath. If you’re clinking glasses with someone of higher rank, place your glass slightly below theirs. Never pour your own drinks – ask the waitress or wait for a neighbour to pour for you. Red wine is only for toasting, no slurping. Remember, no business talk at the table and avoid talking politics or any sensitive issues.

Gifting
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Gifting

The anti-corruption drive means more lavish gifts are now less common, but food is always a safe bet. Bring a speciality from your hometown – red wine or tea is always appreciated. Bad gift ideas are clocks, knives and other sharp objects, which signify severing ties. Numbers are also important. Six, eight and nine are lucky; in Chinese the number four (si) is a homonym for the word  ‘death’, and should be avoided when gifting.

Farewells
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Farewells

Seeing your guests off properly is an etiquette rule many rat racers often forget about. ‘It has to be level to level,’ says Ho. Meaning, if the CEO of a  company is departing, be sure the CEO of your company, or someone of similar rank, sees him or her off all the way out, helps them into the car and stands by until their vehicle is out of sight. Don’t forget to wave goodbye.

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