Those of us who do business with Asians understand that, in order to gain the trust of an Asian investor or buyer from which a business relationship can flourish you need to invest in building relationships first before proceeding to any type of deal or transaction.

In order to build that relationship you need some kind of appreciation, curiosity, passion and/or interest in Asian culture to earn the right to do business. This is definitely easier said than done, especially when you want to talk about a deal, or get to the money, quickly. You should therefore take things slowly and I often use the analogy of taking Three Cups of Tea to emphasise this point.

My Chinese business partner Vanessa Xing, recently shared her own experience of building relationships with Chinese counterparts at our ACSME Roundtable in January:

Having lived and worked in Australia for the past 20 years, Vanessa believes that despite growing up in China, she has adopted a “Western approach” to communicating. This means she gets to the point quickly, asks direct and probing questions, moves the conversation quickly to the business objectives, and doesn’t waste time on frivolous conversations.

In the last 5 years she has spent more time working in China and now adopts a more “Chinese” approach to relationship building. This involves long conversations about “non-business” issues, including the weather, the food, families (particularly the hopes and dreams for their children) and the differences between China and other countries. Often business is not discussed at all, or at the very end of a dinner, after all other conversations are exhausted.

It’s important to remember that as a foreigner (whether you have a Chinese or western face) you are building familiarity, confidence and more importantly, trust with your Chinese counterparts. This takes time and patience. Build relationships first and the business will follow.


Aside from following the Three Cups of Tea analogy, I think it’s also important to consider Chinese attitude to hierarchy. Unlike our egalitarian society, where everyone is treated equally and our organisation structures are “flat”, Chinese people are totally comfortable with a “hierarchical culture”. Decisions are made by leaders at the top (whether Government, Business or Family leaders) and are then implemented by senior, middle and junior managers depending on their level of seniority. It’s important that you understand this and also respect and recognise everyone’s role in the process; particularly the juniors who often get forgotten and are rarely praised for their contribution to a successful outcome.

It’s also important for Australian organisations to mirror the Chinese hierarchy by lining up the same way. That is. Chairman to Chairman, CEO to CEO and deputies and middle managers with their counterparts. This is critical to getting a deal done because whilst the seniors will make high level decisions, they will only happen if the juniors do the implementation work. You can learn more about Hierarchy in my previously blog.

Be willing to put on a Show

The Chinese are often impressed by the size of your office, the view out of your window, the strength of your team and your brand of car. Don’t hide your success from them (as you are likely to do amongst your fellow Australians) but be willing to flaunt it! The Chinese want to deal with successful and influential people, so be a lot more willing to play up your connections and success rather than be humble.

Of course, you mustn’t tell lies or fake your success as this will likely backfire on you. But play to your strengths and Australia’s strengths. The Chinese are envious of our lifestyle in Australia, our clean and safe environment and our friendly and open culture. Invite them to come here, show them what we have and repay their hospitality in your hometown. Take photographs and share them on WeChat to give ‘face’ and you’ll be surprised at how quickly this leads to a successful business outcome!

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