Pass Go in China: Do Not Go To Jail

Business in China is done through relationships. As a result, building your business network or guanxi without crossing the line into corruption is key to your success in China and to staying out of jail in the United States. Corruption is a serious issue for anyone who does business in China and while the perks are changing, the law has not. In China, you build business relationships by giving gifts and trading favors, but you need to avoid these pitfalls.

You Are Not Chinese

Gifts help you build business relationships in China. It is worth your time to find a guide on gift giving in China and pay attention to the details. You can build relationships and friendships that will last for the rest of your life. You can also insult someone and hurt your business prospects.

Guanxi is strongest with family and close friends. Even after doing business in China for several decades, you will still be an outsider. You will never have the deep guanxi that Chinese people have. This won’t prevent you from success in business in China, but you will have an easier time if you admit the reality to yourself: You are not Chinese. You are doing business under a different legal system with different advantages, disadvantages and consequences. Understanding the value that you bring and being aware of the advantages and disadvantages will help you advance your business interests in China far more than going native.

Pay Attention When

If you start to think that it is okay to do something because everyone else is doing it, you are on a slippery slope. This may sound good in the moment, but it will be more than uncomfortable justifying your decisions in court. The DOJ wants companies to develop a compliance program to manage corrupt practices. You might want to develop your own personal “compliance program.”

First, consider how people fall into these traps. It starts with spending time in a situation where corrupt practices are okay. The choices and practices begin to feel normal. This is why gift giving and guanxi are such a slippery slope when doing business in China. Next you begin to justify the behavior, “We’re competing on an unfair playing field” or “We won’t get caught if we do it just this once.” In reality, the playing field is rarely fair and it is probably the first step rather than “just this once.” You are in real danger at this point. Developing a plan can help you make the right decisions.

You are Always Your Own Best Advocate

You know your situation best. You always (or at least you should) have your own self-interest in mind. The trick is to step out of the situation and look at it more objectively. This can be done by considering choices from a different perspective:

  • Ask yourself what this decision would look like in court. Put yourself in the role of a prosecutor or judge and consider what your story sounds like from that perspective.
  • Consider the best practices back home. Would this be acceptable or a news story waiting to happen?
  • Is there anyone you would not want to tell about this choice? If your grandmother/father/best friend/husband/wife would not approve, perhaps you should reconsider.
  • “Look back” at the the choice (and potential pattern of choices) from 10 years in the future. Does it still make good business sense?

Next Steps

First, always consider ways to turn any attempts to collect a bribe into a legitimate business opportunity. Next, ask a group of friends to become an advisory group. Membership in this group should depend on the person’s willingness to offend you for your own good. Having a good friend point out that an idea could land you in jail will probably be uncomfortable, but it is certainly better than actually going to jail. If you do business in China, make sure that at least one of your friends has little or no China experience. This will offer a more objective perspective.

For the really big decisions, if you don’t have access to corporate counsel, hire a lawyer to help you vet decisions. You are better off feeling the pain in your pocketbook than in the uncomfortable bed of a jail cell. In the end though, only you can make the right choices.

Step 5: Make Your Dream Happen and Learn Chinese

It’s the end of January. How is your dream to learn Chinese coming? Are you crashing or going strong? That probably depends on how much time you put into planning each step. The reality of a goal is always harder than it sounds on New Years Eve. The difference between crashing and success lies in finding a new normal for you. But a new normal means changing everything.

Why is following a dream hard?

Learning Mandarin Chinese or any other dream takes dedication. It changes and threatens everything else in your life. Your husband/wife/best friend might not understand why you go to Chinese class on Tuesday evenings or Saturday mornings.  Jon Acuff gives his perspective about when this happens. When you follow your dream, they see their own failures.

Your husband/wife/friend may also be threatened by the change in you. How do the changes in you impact your relationship with them? People outgrow relationships all of the time. Now that’s scary. Then there is the fear you personally have of change. What if you succeed? Even worse, what if you succeed and nothing changes or no one cares?

So what now?

If your dream is causing relationship struggles, you need to talk to the other person. Find out why. Are they guilty for not coming along for the ride? Are they mad because they aren’t following their own dream? Does following your dream mean less time for them? You might find an easy solution, but you might need to work at it. Dreams are worth the effort. It may come down to making a choice between the friend and your dream. I hope not.

Bring Your Friends Along for the Ride

Try to get your old friends to take on a role in your new life. Maybe they can become an accountability coach. They check in and see if things are going well. They follow your run in their car. They test your Chinese vocabulary with flashcards. What’s their dream? You can also encourage them to follow their dream and become their accountability coach.

Find New Friends

This does not have to mean letting go of your old friends. Finding new friends will broaden your horizons and breath new life into your goal. They never knew the old you and won’t be as tempted to ask you to skip Chinese class and go out drinking instead. If your dream is running a marathon, join a running group. If your dream is learning Mandarin Chinese, then join a study group.

End of New Years Resolution Series

I hope you found the last month of posts helpful. It was fun writing them. I am going to follow up with a post checking in here and there. Please reach out if you need support with your dream to learn Chinese. We’d love to help!

Please Consider these Questions and Comment

  1. What is your dream? Is your dream learning Mandarin Chinese?
  2. How have you built support for your dream? Do you attend a Chinese class?
  3. Have you had to let go of old friends to live a new dream?
  4. Have you made new friends as a part of your dream?

The Accidental Death of a Business Relationship

Doing business in China requires some understanding of Chinese culture. You probably already know about Guanxi and gifts in China. You need to give a return gift that is slightly better than what you receive. As the relationship develops, you need to continue to exchange gifts favors. It is best to keep it roughly even. Sometimes it gets out of balance and they want something that is difficult for you to give. You have to make a choice, find a way to make it even or lose the relationship. Who that person is and how important they are has obvious impacts on your choice here.

My First Lesson in Chinese Business Relationships

I was on a plane on my first trip to Taiwan in 1999 and I did not understand how business relationships worked in China. I had spent part of the flight talking with a nice woman who happened to be a tour guide taking her group home to Taipei She asked how I would get to Taichung. I wasn’t entirely sure and explained that I’d figure it out. Before I knew it, her husband was driving me to a hotel in Taipei. The next morning, both the woman and her husband picked me up and took me halfway across the country to Taichung. I was both grateful and nervous about their kindness. Just in case, I did my best to fight jet lag and stay awake on the 4 hour trip. When we arrived in Taichung, another friend of theirs bought us all lunch. After lunch, we exchanged emails and I went off to begin my new life in Taichung. I was grateful but did not understand her help. I emailed her and her husband once in a while to keep in touch. About 6 months later, she called and wanted me to go up to Taipei to teach her English once a week. Being American, I had no problem saying no this was impossible. My response ended our friendship. I never heard from them again.

What Went Wrong

I didn’t understand how things went wrong for several years. I thought that they’d been unreasonable and when I would not cave in, they ended the brief friendship. I do regret how things turned out with the woman and her family. I was lucky that they were not influential in my finding work in Taichung. I would have been far better off being proactive and giving them a thank you gift before they had an opportunity to ask for something I could not give. I might still have the two as friends and business contacts. They were kind people and I wish things had gone differently.

Step 4: Overcoming Inertia and Learning Chinese

You are always the biggest obstacle to attaining your goals. The biggest barrier to reaching any attainable goal are your thoughts and beliefs. If you can change how you think (book by John Maxwell on this topic), you can reach any reasonable goal and some unreasonable goals too!

It All Starts With Motivation

Remember the first step when we talked about why you want to learn Chinese? You need to pull that why out and dig into it. Why do you want to learn Mandarin Chinese? How will it change your life? How will it make you proud? How will it make you more effective? We’re going to use the “Why” behind your goal to attack the inertia of life. The driving force behind inertia is negative thinking. I can’t do it. What about the fiscal cliff? Those thoughts (and others like them) lead to fear and an escape activity like eating, drinking or watching TV. Write down 10 sentences about why this goal is important to you. Now look objectively and write down 10 sentences about why this goal is realistic.

Understand Your Thoughts

Pay attention to the thoughts that run through your head when you start to work on your goal. Watch out for thoughts like: I’ll get to it later, I can’t do this, I’d rather watch TV, etc. Write these thoughts down. Is there a trend? Do they point out that while you’d really like to accomplish something, you don’t like the actual work of accomplishing it? Does that change your plan?

Evaluate these thoughts. Are the thoughts really true? What makes them true? Are there ways that the thoughts could be wrong? Changing your thoughts may be as  simple as figuring out that these thoughts are just an excuse. It may take a deeper look into what you really belief. If you don’t believe you can accomplish your goal, then evaluate that belief. Is it really true?

Change Your Thinking

Every time you think a negative thought, use the 20 thoughts you wrote down to remind yourself of why this goal is important and why you can accomplish this goal. Practice this diligently and it will get easier over time. We’ll spend more time on this in the support section too.

When You are Stuck

Runners often talk about the first step being the hardest. It isn’t the running that makes it hard. It’s the mental effort of starting. It may help to break today’s goal into something smaller. If you have to learn 5 Chinese characters, study 1 or 2 and then give yourself permission to take a break. You may just power through all 5 or take a break and come back to the other 3 in a few minutes. The key is often just getting started.

If you really would rather do something else then you need to: examine your priorities and/or change your schedule. First, look at your priorities. You may want to relax right now, but how will you feel in a year? Will that have been time well spent? You need to decide how to spend your time. Second, if there is a reason that sleep is more important right now, can you change your schedule later this week to make up the time? Go deeper. Why is watching TV/sleeping/reading more important? Were you out late with friends or working late because of a deadline at work? Are those things more important than your goal? Will you need to make regular changes to your plan to accommodate these issues?

Comment Below: This Week’s Questions

  1. What are your priorities? How important are these priorities?
  2. Do you want to accomplish great things in life?
  3. What new beliefs do you need to develop?
  4. What thoughts will help you get things done?

What You Can Learn From a 7 Year Old in China

I was warned about gifts within a week of  moving to Taiwan. I was told, “Be careful. The gifts are never free. They always want something in return.” The warning came from a seasoned but jaded westerner who understood how things work but did understand that it was just a cultural difference not  manipulation. Chinese people give gifts. Gifts are an important piece of your strategy to build Guanxi in China.

In America, we set limits. We say no. We respect someone who tells it like it is. We don’t accept gifts we’re not comfortable with because we have integrity. Of course none of this works in China. At least not in the same way that it does in America. To start with, you can’t turn down gifts and maintain relationships in China. It just isn’t done.

Chinese children are taught how life works in China. We’d all learn a lot if we went to a kindergarten in China for a year (and our Chinese would improve too!) One way you manage gift giving is to prevent problems before they start. It won’t always work, but it will help.

When visiting someone’s home: Don’t point out things you like.

A friend was visiting someone in China and saw a book that her daughter loved. A natural response in America is to talk about how wonderful the book is and ask where it can be purchased. It is polite and points out a similarity of taste, which could be the basis for a bond. My friend did something along those lines, but in China this is a mistake. It amounts to a demand that the host go out and buy a copy of the book for the guest. This particular host took it a step further and insisted that my friend bring home the book for her daughter. My friend had to accept the book or insult the host.

It is okay to give general compliments. “Your house is  beautiful” is fine. You can even compliment specific items that the host shows you on the tour you often receive when you first visit a home. Don’t walk over to a specific item and talk about how amazing or wonderful it is.

Chinese children are taught not to go over to someone’s house and say you want something in front of the host. This is true even if you are asking your own parents.

As an adult, avoid complimenting something and ask where it is purchased. It implies the need for a gift. If they aren’t giving you a tour of their home, don’t seek out something and say how nice it is. General compliments around the house are okay. It’s okay to compliment something they show you but don’t point it out.