How to avoid losing business during Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year may seem like a breeze to get through for Western business people, but in fact it is the riskiest time of year for cultural differences to get in the way.

When travelling to a new country, we expect to experience new ways of doing things, and we go so far as to hire a tour guide to keep us on track. We rarely think, however, that we may need such a ‘guide’ in our own country to help us deal with our international business relations at home. Let’s face the fact: the world is globalizing, and Chinese New Year will happen in backyards across the planet this year.

The way to overcome the risk is to minimize it by getting help, and knowing your anthropology before the big event. Luckily, in this article, we’re going to give you some tips on Chinese New Year gift giving to keep you lucky!

Gift down, not up.The red envelopes of lucky money that are iconic of Chinese New Year are given by seniors to juniors. For example, parents give them to children, and homeowners might give them to their landscaper. The bills should be crisp and no coins should be included. The business protocol: Employees expect to receive an envelope from Employers. Envelopes are not to be opened before the giver. During business meals it is good practice to “tip” a server with a red envelope.

Expect refusal. It would seem impolite to Eastern cultures to accept a gift without humbly refusing it a few times first. The business protocol: If you are given a gift by a colleague, client, employer or business alliance, don’t behave like a kid on Christmas morning! On the flip side, if someone refuses your gift, don’t be discouraged, and certainly don’t give up. Retaliate with yet another offer!

Be mindful of bribes. In some Eastern cultures where bribes are used for corruption, taking a gift too soon may seem like ulterior motives are involved. The business protocol: Be cautious about gift-giving to new clients, partners or those in the sales process.

Watch for symbolism. The number four, multiples of four or four of anything is associated with death in Chinese culture, much the same way the colour black is used for mourning in the West. Even is better than odd, knives are for separation, red is lucky and so is 8, blue, white and black are bad; they’re “death”. The business protocol: don’t use a Hallmark money envelope, no matter how touching. Avoid the number 4 like the plague; making sure the contract you prepared leaks onto page 5. Don’t offer a Swiss Army Knife, even if it’s red, or you won’t get a call back about that quote you sent.

Practical is ok too. The great thing about Chinese New Year gift giving is that it doesn’t have to come in a red envelope, or from the bank. The celebration is much like the Western end-of-year holiday of Christmas. You can give practical gifts like bottles of wine, calendars and even flowers – gifts we can resonate with! The business protocol: Wine, calendars and flowers are safe to have couriered to the local head quarters.

Finally, remember that Chinese New Year is as important of a celebration as many of the statutory holidays observed in the West, so offices, shops and businesses in general may shut down for a couple days, especially if the staff and clientele are mainly Asian.