- Indirect Communication: As an extension of the need to maintain harmonious relations, the Chinese rely heavily on indirect communication. They rely less on words and are more attentive to posture, expression and tone of voice to draw meaning. Their speech is often ambiguous, and they may understate their point. The purpose of this is to maintain harmony throughout the conversation and prevent a loss of face on either end of the exchange. The best way of navigating this rhetoric and finding the underlying meaning is to check for clarification several times.
- Refusals: A Chinese person’s preoccupation with saving face and politeness means they will seldom give a direct ‘no’ or negative response, even when they do not agree with you. Therefore, focus on hints of hesitation. Listen closely to what they say, but also pay careful attention to what they don’t say and double-check your understanding.
- Laughter: When relaying bad news, a Chinese person may smile and laugh to diffuse the uncomfortable situation.
- Voice: In China, men generally speak louder than women. When a woman talks loudly, she may be considered to have bad manners.
- Language: Standard Chinese (known as ‘putonghua’ or Mandarin) is based on the Beijing dialect and is the official national language. Most people can read, write and speak Mandarin as it is taught in schools. Chinese is a tonal language, meaning that a single word may have multiple meanings depending on how it is pronounced. For example, the word ‘ma’ can mean "scold", "linen", "horse", or "mother" depending on the tone used by the speaker. Many people will also use the language or dialect of their geographic region.
- Personal Space: The Chinese tend to be comfortable standing just over an arm’s length from one another. When meeting strangers, this distance will be farther.
- Physical Contact: The Chinese generally do not touch people that are strangers to them unless it is unavoidable (i.e., in a crowd). However, close friends or the same gender may stand or sit close to one another or walk arm in arm. They will avoid touching during conversation unless it is to a family member, close friend or a partner.
- Eye Contact: Direct eye contact is generally favoured over indirect eye contact. It is considered a sign of politeness. When conversing with an unfamiliar elder, one may lower their head to lower their gaze. This is a sign of respect.
- Silence: Silence is an important and purposeful tool used in Chinese communication. Pausing before giving a response indicates that someone has applied appropriate thought and consideration to the question. This signifies politeness and respect.
- Pointing: The Chinese point with their whole open hand instead of their index finger.
- Beckoning: Beckoning is done by facing the palm of one’s hand to the ground and waving one’s fingers towards oneself.
- Feet: Displaying the soles of one’s feet, using one’s feet to move something or putting one’s feet on furniture is considered rude.
- Whistling: Whistling is considered rude.
- Waving: ‘No’ may be indicated by waving the hand in front of one’s face.
- Body Language: Shrugging shoulders and winking are both gestures that are not always understood by Chinese people.