In the United States, it has become far less common for people to exchange business cards at first meeting in professional settings. More often, one party texts their contact information to the other and the information goes directly into their smartphone or other device.
In China, as in much of Asia, the business card is more than an information delivery system. The exchange of the cards is a ritual of greeting and respect and should be approached carefully, since it can set the tone for the whole business relationship for better or for worse.
You should have business cards printed for your Chinese business activities that have the information on one side in English and on the other in Chinese. Bring a lot of cards, so you can hand them freely to all associates as you meet them. Also, invest in a small business card case—never just put someone’s business card in your wallet or pocket.
When you present your card, do it with both hands showing the appropriate language side. Even if your conversation is in English, present the Chinese side to your Chinese counterpart as a sign of respect for their language and culture. When you receive a card, also use both hands. Take a moment to read the card fully before putting it in the case. NEVER just take the card and stuff it in your pocket, which would be taken as a sign of disrespect.
Small things have big significance in international business. By making a strong first impression with your handling of the business card exchange, you can set a positive tone for a “win-win” relationship with your Chinese clients and associates.
About the Author:
Don Steiner, MA, CPT, is a communication and leadership consultant with a specialty in intercultural communication issues. Don has worked with clients in the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific region to help them reach each other with more meaningful and successful communication. He teaches workshops on presentation skills, sales skills, and talking to people around the world more effectively. He lives with his family in Tempe, Arizona.