For decades now, the term “cultural intelligence” has become a buzz phrase. As the world comes to grips with the glaring consequences of IT and globalization and continues to find better ways of conducting businesses with people of diverse backgrounds, the expression has assumed a life of its own as an essential element of business growth and development. Of all the definitions of Cultural Intelligence I’ve come across, this one from a Harvard Business Review article resonates the most with me: “Cultural Intelligence is an outsider’s seemingly natural ability to interpret someone’s unfamiliar and ambiguous gestures the way that person’s compatriots would”. It goes beyond emotional intelligence.

African businesses are fast realising the huge implications of the global village which the business environment has become. They must, therefore, prioritize ensuring that the beliefs, values, and communication styles of their global target market are inculcated into every staff member in order to gain a much-needed competitive advantage. Cultural intelligence is such an important aspect of business, especially international business. Every business requires a different cultural approach so as to be on solid terms with the customers you have to interact with. This desired relationship cannot be built if African businesses fail to acquire the resources, talent, and knowledge presented by cultural intelligence. African businesses need to make the right investments in the quality of leaders and employees who have deliberately acquired cultural intelligence skills. These are the people that will cascade the culture down the rank and file, and ensure that colleagues adapt quickly to peculiar and changing environments in their daily dealings with other people.

The dynamism of global business will eventually compel African business entities to make their goods and services more adaptable to international clients from diverse cultural backgrounds. More and more African businesses are becoming aware of this reality as one of the most vital ways of enhancing competitiveness.

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Written by: Noela UGWU, Image Consultant and a communication expert. 

28 ST September 2021, Nigeria

Category: Cultural Intelligence 

Reference: NU280921CI

ProtocolToday is an expert organization, Founded by professionals with years of experience in Cultural Intelligence and Soft Diplomacy. They offer well-researched training programs to help you prepare for the international presence. Enhance your abilities to dine, converse, and present at an international stage.

Become discreet and make your mark!



In Chinese culture, the corporate image has Western connotations: Businessmen wear suits in neutral colors such as gray or navy blue, and ties in subdued and conservative colors. Such garments are not the rule, their use is not common in business meetings, but they are mandatory in institutional meetings.

Women will usually wear suits or dresses of conservative style and colors; high-necked, long-sleeved blouses; since, if the woman shows “too much skin” it can be seen as an offensive attitude. Due to the emphasis on conservative style and modesty in clothing, the shoes have to be flat or with a low heel, the high heel in footwear for women, – even more so if you are taller than the hosts – is only acceptable at official receptions offered by a foreign diplomat.

At this type of formal event, men should wear a suit and tie, since the tuxedo or other Western Etiquette wearing, is not part of Chinese culture.

It is common for entrepreneurs to wear suits in dark tones and classic models. Bright colors or any other non-traditional details will generally be viewed as inappropriate. As for informal clothing, it should be conservative, without attracting much attention. Jeans are acceptable within the range of casual clothing for both, men and women. Shorts are reserved exclusively for exercise, regardless of the prevailing temperature.

Greetings and introductions:

As a general rule within Eastern culture, the Chinese do not give access to physical contact at greeting time. Tapping on the back, touching on the arm, kisses or hugs, is not part of good oriental manners. For them, it is not correct to express feelings in public.

Although reverence is no longer the most common of manners these days in China, there has been in recent decades a symbiosis between the eastern with the western ways. Until Covid 19 era, the westernization of the greeting was accepted, admitting the handshake as something normal in the business world. However, when they agree to the handshake, they perform said greeting, slightly inclining their head.  In a conventional way, -unlike the Japanese greeting-, the Chinese people make the reverence from the shoulders to waist. If we are faced with this greeting, let’s remember this characteristic and we will make a slight inclination of the body, throwing the shoulders forward. With the handshake, it is recommended to wait for the Chinese hosts to offer the hand first.

At the greeting time, the rule is to address those of older age or rank first and, if you have a large group in front of you, we will usually notice that they will form a line with the most important or highest ranking at the head. Usually, the one with the highest rank will be the first to enter the room.

If introductions are to be made, formality governs and formal titles should be used. The order is: last name plus first name, accompanying the job position. If the title or position of the person is not known, it is best to call them “Sir” (Xiānshēng), “Madam” (Tàitài) or Miss (Xiǎojiě), a contact from this region will never be called by name or just by the last name. For example, if we are introduced to Miss Lin Jinhao, we will call her “Miss Lin”, but never directly by her first name.

By tradition, the Chinese will write the last name first, then the middle name, and finally the first. The second name is the one that is often used among family and friends. In certain business and diplomatic circles, the protocol imposes the enunciation of the title or rank, as, for example, the “President X”, the “The parliamentarian Y”, or the “General Z” and is part of the general protocol, not to refer to a Chinese businessman just by the surname. The last name must be accompanied by the position or job functions: For example: “Secretary Ma”, “Director Chen”.

As a special recommendation, when we are introduced to someone, we might choose a short and easy-to-pronounce name. If they do not remember it, it is not uncommon if they call us in ways that are easy for them to say or with nicknames that relate to our physical characteristics, such as “short redhead” or “tall skinny”, which probably, we would not like.

There are up to 12 different ways to say “Hello”, but in the business world, the formal and respectful greeting is 您好 (nínhǎo) or 喂. (Wéi). The word “pīnyīn”, is the greeting used exclusively to answer the phone. The most used phrase is “Nǐ hǎo ma?” which has a significance similar to “How are you?”, to which you must answer Hǎo! Xièxiè!  (I am good, thank you!).

There are other casual forms of greeting, many proven Western greetings for informal circumstances, and if more is required, they can be found at this link:

An un-common use in the western world occurs when we are received by a group of people. If we go to a theater, school, or workplace, and they give us welcoming applause, we should return the attention with the same gesture of a short clap.

If we are subject to present ourselves in public, the greeting and our expression should show self-control, modesty, and politeness. In dealing with them, their shyness or introverted attitude could mislead our first impression. It is not rude, much less hostility. On the contrary, for them, it is a show of respect.

It is somewhat common that the first question to start a conversation is if we have eaten and even if we have not, you have to say “yes”. 

Business card:

As customary, it is suggested that it be presented in two languages: on one side, in our local language (or in English, which is the international language of business) and on the other, in Chinese; better still, in the dialect of the place of our contact. (For this, you can go to the local advisor who provides the necessary information). This elegant show of consideration and courtesy will be appreciated by our interlocutors.

Another important consideration when printing our cards will be to take care of their color and ink. Do not use colored ink that could have a special meaning for them. One of the best choices is the golden types: for them, means good luck, prosperity, and prestige.

For design, it is advisable to use black and white, understanding that, in Chinese culture, color does not mean the same when it comes to writing. For example, you should never write in red as it reminds them of the blood and the great problems of their cultural revolution. As for the characters, it will be better to use the simple characters of the Chinese script and not the classic characters that are usually used in Taiwan or Hong Kong.

If, in addition to the People’s Republic of China, you visit companies from Taiwan and Hong Kong, it is better to have two different types of cards for Taiwan and Hong Kong. If we get confused at the time of giving them, it could cause some kind of setback or compromised situation.

Reporting on the prestige or position that one has, acquires a lot of importance at the time of business; since they like to know with whom they speak and to know if we have any decision-making power in making final agreements. It would be better if an important meeting was attended by a manager of important rank. In the same way, if the company being represented is one of the largest in the country or one of the oldest, it is recommended to include this information on the business card or indicate it in the presentations, as they are very detailed and valuable for them.

Within the Chinese Etiquette, business cards are exchanged at the beginning of any meeting and it should be planned to have enough to give one to each person who attends it, considering that, -in most cases-, Chinese delegations tend to be numerous.

When they are handed in, they must be given with both hands and with the Chinese design visible (that is, on the face that is written in Chinese or in the local dialect) and we must be accepted with both hands at the corners, showing interest in it (that is, we must look closely at what the card shows). With that, they assume that we are showing interest, as a duly courteous attitude, to confirm that we are interested in the information that is detailed there. Crucial care is to never cover the name with our fingers (the name in the card we are being handed), as it is considered an offense (It is attributed to the fact that the name printed on the card is a physical representation of their spirit).

We don’t put the card directly into the purse, wallet, folder, or cardholder without looking; or throw it on the table, or worse: put it in our pocket; they will be considered like rude acts. Keeping cards below the waistline (jacket pockets, pants, back pocket, etc.) is also assumed to be disrespectful, as is writing on a business card. All of these are attitudes that go beyond the established rules of Etiquette for doing good business in that country.

It is clarified that the ancient Chinese tradition indicated giving and receiving these cards with head’s reverence, but as said, it is no longer common; however, if it is done, it will gain the respect of the contacts.

These first steps, at the moment of initiating contact, will help us to open the doors in this eastern world. The following publications will provide more information for this culture of demanding behavior.

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Written by: Claudia STOHMANN R. de A. Communicator, speaker, writer, etiquette and protocol expert, and ProtocolToday writer. 

14 September 2021, Bolivia 

Category: Cultural Intelligence

Reference: CS140921CI

ProtocolToday is an expert organization, Founded by professionals with years of experience in Cultural Intelligence and Soft Diplomacy. They offer well-researched training programs to help you prepare for the international presence. Enhance your abilities to dine, converse, and present at an international stage.

Become discreet and make your mark!


Under cultural and global intelligence criteria, we start a compendium that involves essential details for contact and business relationships in China; a country of ancient culture and traditions.

It is common knowledge, in many respects, their customs are diametrically opposed to Western customs and unlike many cultures that are dissipating in modernity, China is a country that has taken root in it, which makes it a wonderful and interesting option to get to know, but at the same time, “a complicated group” to access, if you don’t know them at least in a basic way in terms of their paradigms, environment, traditions and even superstitions.

This is one of the most extensive contents because there are many topics that must be deepened for proper development and correction and thus not make mistakes that can be transcendental so as not to lose the course of a good contact or a good business relationship.


Ideally, an invitation to do business in China is required and inevitably, has to be planned several months in advance. After reaching an agreement, it is feasible to send the necessary documentation to start the negotiations.

To make appointments, it is advisable to go to the embassy or consulate in our country to help us to prepare for the negotiation visit and guide us on the main steps to follow. Generally, they are willing to provide useful contacts and a list of addresses to get an interpreter to collaborate with details before, during, and after contacts or meetings, since, being a very special culture, could be very useful to understand the subtleties of everything that is discussed during the meetings.

It is recommended, practically in an unfailing way, to seek the services of a local consultancy, to guide in the steps to follow (China is considered a very bureaucratized country). The consultants admirably streamline the necessary procedures and the many issues that arise to reach a successful conclusion in business in this country. Additionally, they will help to prevent fraud and, on the other hand, their hiring transmits greater reliability for Chinese interlocutors.

These mediators also facilitate the task of getting a good “guanxi”, whose literal translation is: “establish relationships”; which becomes a concept of great relevance in Chinese business culture, since establishing a good “chain of relationships” that helps in the development of good negotiations, understanding that they are very ceremonious and it takes patience and tranquility to advance “step by step”, at their own pace.  They help to make it without as much effort as it would take to do it in an isolated way (not to say would be practically impossible).

After the pandemic and a great effort to return to normal life, business hours have changed. In some companies, 2.5 – days weekend has been established. Therefore, it will be necessary to coordinate a meeting or visit, with anticipation.

The usual office hours were from 8 in the morning to 5 in the afternoon from Monday to Saturday. However, in the larger cities, the westernization of their customs has resulted in working hours from Monday to Friday.

Usually, about schedules and dates, the best hours for business are during the morning, until lunchtime and the best dates to arrange interviews and meetings are from April to June and from September to October.

In general, workers have 2 hours at noon to eat (between 12 pm and 2 pm hours approximately) and under a strict and hermetic system, all commercial services and companies keep closed at this time (Even the most necessaries).

Under normal conditions, commercial premises are open from 9 in the morning to 7 at night, but, as with offices, the most commercial capital cities could remain open until 10 at night.

In most offices and government agencies, Fridays are dedicated to internal political issues and it is not a good date to set up any type of meeting with these authorities. It is a time known as “political study” and official workers they are not suitable for other activities.

When visits and appointments are scheduled, the Chinese calendar will have many dates that do not usually coincide with the Western calendar. One of the most important dates, for example, is May 1st, when it is customary for shops and companies to remain closed for a week, and the start date depends on the official announcement by the authorities.

Among the holidays established by law are New Year’s Day (January 1st), with a day of rest; the Spring Festival, New Year of the agricultural or lunar calendar, with three days of vacation; the International Day of the Working Woman (March 8th); Arbor Day (March 12th); International Labor Day (May 1st), China Youth Day (May 4th); International Children’s Day (June 1st); China People’s Liberation Army Foundation Day (August 1st); Teacher’s Day (September 10th) and the National Holiday (October 1st), with three days of suspension of activities.

As for the great traditional festivals in China, the Spring Festival, the Lantern Festival, the Purity and Clarity Festival, the “Duanwu” Festival, and the Mid-Autumn Festival stand out.

Ethnic minorities keep their own festivals: The “Throwing Water” festival of Dai ethnic group, the great Nadam festival of Mongols, the “Torch” festival of Yi, the “Danu” of Yao, the “March Fair” of Bai ethnic group, the “Geyu” of Zhuang, the “Losar” (Tibetan New Year) and the “Ongkor” (the Harvest Festival) of Tibetan ethnic group, and “Tiaohua” (dance with flowers) of Miao.

Finding out exactly these dates to plan a business appointment, will prevent us from facing “lost time” or other difficulties to negotiate in good time; even more so, if the cancellation of an appointment or lateness, is considered an offense for the company and for person or persons are waiting. We must be very punctual to start relations in the eastern country to start with the right foot. As always in these cases, the best way will be to arrive sometime in advance and make a subtle prelude until the indicated time. (For them, it is better to arrive a little earlier than to be late).

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Written by Claudia STOHMANN R. de A. Communicator, speaker, writer, etiquette, and protocol expert.

26 August 2021, Bolivia

Category: Cultural Intelligence 

Reference: CS260821CI


ProtocolToday is an expert organization, Founded by professionals with years of experience in Cultural Intelligence and Soft Diplomacy. They offer well-researched training programs to help you prepare for the international presence. Enhance your abilities to dine, converse, and present at an international stage.

Become discreet and make your mark!


The world is changing faster than ever before in the past. At the moment we are all posing new challenges than any other generation has faced, with Covid-19 around; it’s imperative we evolve faster and adapt robust ways of working, connecting, and interacting with people not just nationally but internationally.

Hence, it’s important for Entrepreneurs/Executives/Diplomats and everybody else who is willing to create their presence internationally must possess and showcase a growth mindset that is more global. Working with people from different cultures/countries necessitates additional skills. To consummate important business deals, projects that need international funding, government projects, and everything else that is directly or indirectly requires interacting and exchanging ideas with people from diverse cultures that is not from your own; requires extra abilities.

Something that seems appropriate and graceful in one culture could mean the opposite in another culture. For e.g. presenting a Chrysanthemum flower bouquet exhibits loyalty and devoted love in Japan, In America it symbolizes longevity and joy, in Europe, it is associated with death. Therefore, being aware of differences in cultures, learning a few words of the local language or any distinctive characteristics of those countries/cultures will help break barriers; build strong and long-term allies around the world.

While understanding elements of Cultural Intelligence helps build bridges, it’s important to also showcase the best of our manners and etiquette, refined communications skills, follow proper Protocol and appear elegant/ classy to create that first and everlasting impression on others. One must always remember we are not only presenting ourselves but representing our company and country.  Based on which other people will make impressions about us. A positive impression could lead to meaningful associations and can open doors for bigger opportunities.

ProtocolToday is an expert organization, Founded by professionals with years of experience in Cultural Intelligence and Soft Diplomacy. They offer well-researched training programs to help you prepare for the international presence. Enhance your abilities to dine, converse, and present at an international stage.

Become discreet and make your mark!

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Self-reflection written by Kruti SHAH, licensed Global Mindset skills trainer in India for ProtocolToday Academy

01 May 2021, INDIA

Category: Cultural Intelligence 

Reference: KS010521IC

ProtocolToday is an expert organization, Founded by professionals with years of experience in Cultural Intelligence and Soft Diplomacy. They offer well-researched training programs to help you prepare for the international presence. Enhance your abilities to dine, converse, and present at an international stage.

Become discreet and make your mark!