Tag Archives: business card etiquette

LSS: Both hands full of respect

Within a few hours last week, I met three people who told me they were headed to China for business within the next few weeks. One of them knew I had been to China a couple of times and politely asked if I had any pointers.
I’ve thought about his question and my answer since, and I believe my advice for him regarding a particular Chinese custom might be beneficial on either side of the Pacific.
In the past decade, many books have been written explaining the finer points of making the best impression in meeting and working with the Chinese. My limited information only scratches the surface, and is based more on personal observation than anything else. I am not for a moment suggesting that my insights compare to those with encyclopedic knowledge. However, there is one thing I believe visitors to China can do that may make a world of difference in their experience there—and translating the intent of that custom could make a difference here, as well.
My piece of advice is really very simple. Exchanging business cards is a big deal in China. Learning Chinese business card etiquette will go a long way.
Firstly, anyone planning on doing business in China or with the Chinese should create double-sided business cards—one side in English and one side in Simplified Chinese, but the real protocol is in making the exchange.
When you accept a business card or hand a business card to someone, you should face the person you’re making the exchange with and use both hands to deliver and use both hands to accept the card.
Using both hands is a sign of respect.
Following the exchange, both parties are expected to study the business cards they’ve just accepted for a moment and then place them on the table beside them, if they’re sitting down for a meeting. Stuffing it into a purse or pocket is frowned upon.
As I understand things, in China, haphazardly reaching out with one hand to grab something from one person, while you’re talking with someone else, would be considered the height of rudeness. While I’m certain there are countless other points of Chinese etiquette and protocol that a more enlightened and educated person could share, that one point made an impression on me.
In fact, even though I haven’t been back to China in nearly eight years, I think about that point almost every day. Nothing about it comes naturally to me. But it’s about giving my whole focus to the person I’m interacting with—and demonstrating that focus physically.
Using both hands in the business card exchange requires a different kind of concentration than most Americans are accustomed to offering. Why would we do something with two hands when it only takes one?
And, I think that’s the whole point.
Taking that extra energy and time to pay attention to someone new slows down the exchange and, in my opinion, improves a rhythm that is all too often rushed. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not insisting, or even proposing, that everyone should start using two hands to make business card exchanges. However, I do believe taking extra time and focusing our energy, attention and respect on the people we meet and greet might go a long way in laying the groundwork for improved relations wherever we are.