The whole subject of business card etiquette in Asia is a subject that creates a minefield of misunderstandings for Western businesspeople and a lot of embarrassed amusement – or rather, bemusement.
However, there is no reason why this should be the case. Presenting your credentials is an obvious way of initiating business contact in both East and West.
Business people all over the world send out individual and company portfolios and resumés, create websites and use social media such as Facebook and LinkedIn, to initiate business.
The only major difference is that Westerners tend to be more relaxed about introducing themselves, or at least less formal, and do not use business cards much.
Even when they do, the cards are often handed out in a cocktail party way with one hand on a glass of something and the other flicking the card into a convenient side pocket.
A BUSINESS CARD IS YOUR FACE
Asia is very different in this regard. It is generally considered that a business card represents a person’s identity. The card is literally the face of you and your business: who you are and what position you hold.
Just as we wouldn’t mistreat a face by scribbling on it, or by offering it with a flick of the hand, or by dumping it into a back pocket wallet to be sat on, so too the Asian business card demands respect.
There is a rite that follows on a first meeting, just after the handshake and initial exchange of names. That is the exchange of business cards. And just as in any rite, there are simple rules to observe.
1. Make sure that the business card has all your details and is printed in English on one side and the local language on the other. If the language is Chinese, make sure the characters are simplified Chinese for mainland China, and traditional Chinese for Hong Kong, Malaysia and Indonesia, Singapore and Taiwan.
The Japanese call business cards meishi, and meishi have much greater cultural significance in Japan than in Western culture. They provide information about the group to which you belong, where you stand in the respect hierarchy and therefore how much respect should be shown to you.
Not presenting a meishi at a business meeting is tantamount to not shaking hands at a Western business meeting. It causes irreparable damage.
2. Always stand up to exchange cards. The cards themselves should be meticulously clean and if possible produced from an elegant cardholder. Bent or smudged or worn-out cards will not do.
Present your card with both thumbs holding the card in front of you, NOT in one hand as if your are about to play poker. The local language should be on the upper side of the card.
If required (and it usually is, since everyone at the meeting will come armed with their own cards), continue to present your cards one-by-one, individual-by-individual, using both hands if possible.
Remember you have to accept the other person’s business card in the same respectful manner, so if you are new to the game, practise with your colleagues until you get the rhythm and the presentation fluent.
3. Observe some simple ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’. Don’t toss the cards about in any manner. Don’t place a stack of them on the table and ask people to help themselves. Don’t put the card away in an inner pocket, or worse, lose it somewhere in your trousers or skirt pockets.
Leave it out with the others on the tabletop as the meeting proceeds so that you can refer to it (your Asian counterparts will find this respectful and take note).
Don’t write comments on anyone else’s business card in their presence, such as when the client is available, next meeting, mobile number etc., since this is equivalent to writing on their face.
TAKE AN ADEQUATE SUPPLY
Many Asian clients hand out their business cards as if there were no tomorrow. Don’t be left out. Take an ample supply of cards with you to every meeting. You will use many more of them than in your home country.
Finally, remember that in cultures where context is important, and body language, giving and receiving a business card in a respectful way could well mark you out as a suitable person to do business with. The business card ritual is that important.
Are there aspects of Asia business etiquette and customs that you can’t quite figure out? Do you feel that your mistakes may be losing you business? If so, I’m here to help you.
I’m opening up some spaces on my calendar to discuss your specific challenges so if you’re ready to take action now, complete your details below and we’ll be in touch.