I'll never forget the time I met a professor at a university in Shanghai several years ago. The university was established as a joint venture between China and a European institution, and offered business degrees to local and international students.
As I had become accustomed to doing for a decade and a half prior to that meeting, I handed the professor my business card. He not only did not spend any time even looking at my card, he left it on the table at the end of our meeting.
I was shocked by his behavior, and attributed his cultural insensitivity to the fact that he had likely only lived and worked in China for a brief time. Somehow, he never learned the basic principles of name card etiquette that is widely practice in many Asian countries.
These are simple principles that, if you observe them correctly and consistently, your chances of building quick rapport and trust with people rise tremendously:
1. Always carry plenty of business cards.
If you want to build your network in Asia, you'll want to collect business cards. And the best way to do that is to offer your card in return. Opening your wallet or digging into your suit pocket to find that you've run out of cards is often an awkward and embarrassing experience. Sure, you can still ask for a person's business card, but offer to send yours in return, and make sure you actually follow-up on your promise.
I still make this mistake from time to time. In fact, this happened to me just the other day. Before I left the office for a meeting, I took a stack of cards with me. Except that I ended up coming up short by one card when I had the chance to meet a very senior executive at the company I was visiting. Business card fail!
2. Present your business card in the correct way.
The way you present your business card speaks volumes about your understanding of local customs and your respect for the people you're meeting.
When presenting your card, make sure your name and title are facing your counterpart so they can read it. Hold it with both hands and present it slowly to them. Do not present it casually, with one hand, or with your name and title facing down. And do not just toss or shove your card, if you happen to be sitting at a table.
3. Receive cards in the the correct way.
Presenting your business card correctly is critical. But equally important is the way you receive someone else's card. Accept it with both hands, and don't just stuff it in your wallet or drop it on the table. Spend a few moments to actually read the name and the title on the card. If you know how to pronounce their name correctly, or know what it means in their language, your making that known will be much appreciated by them. Regardless, you should treat their card with the utmost respect, a practice that conveys the level of respect you are treating the person himself.
Leave their card on the table in front of you for the duration of your meeting, and, of course, don't forget to put it away and take it with you when you're done.
These are super simple habits, and yet, surprisingly, many people visiting Asia on business still get this wrong. And, given the propensity for most people in Asia to not let their guests lose face by making a fuss about their inability to abide by local business customs, they rarely offer feedback that can help their foreign guests fix their wayward habits.