Negotiations in China: Part 2

The Chinese have an international reputation of being hard negotiation partners. In this second part of our series, find out where this reputation comes from, what negotiation tactics your Chinese partners will tend to use and how to handle them confidently.

In the first part of our series, we provided you with valuable tips on how you should prepare your negotiation discussions with Chinese partners. Among other things, a personal relationship built on trust and the right composition of your negotiation team play an important role in this. But what do you need to keep in mind in the next stages?

Invest plenty of time in nurturing your relationship at the beginning of your negotiation discussions. Private discussions, small talk and exchanging pleasantries can create an amiable atmosphere and ensure a smooth, relaxed start to the negotiations. Only talk about business-related topics afterward.

Cunning and tactics

Be aware that many Chinese people tend to use a variety of strategies over the course of negotiations. They’re occasionally guided by old pearls of wisdom from the Chinese art of war [e.g., from Sun Tzu], and they adjust their tactics specifically to their respective partners and their individual weaknesses. This is why the Chinese are often internationally considered hard negotiation partners. Here are some examples of negotiation strategies you can expect to encounter:

  • Expect several rounds of negotiations, occasionally with long breaks between meetings. Patience is essential in Chinese business. Demonstrate restraint, include plenty of extra time in your schedule, be flexible and spontaneous and put as little time-related pressure as possible on your Chinese partners.
  • Brace yourself for alternating negotiation partners. Depending on the discussion topics, members of the negotiation team could be different at every meeting. Try to keep up with all the participants and win them over with arguments appropriate for their specializations. Because Chinese culture is strongly cross-cultural training China, China, cross-cultural training, negotiations, patience, indirectness, strategy, silent periodcollectivistic [the group is above the individual], you should try to win over the entire negotiation team.
  • Openly signaled disinterest, an arrogant attitude towards you, the raising of voices and ostensible anger could just be a show from the Chinese side. These strategies could be chosen deliberately to unsettle you or to elicit concessions. Stay confident and handle situations like these in a level-headed way, as this is the only way your Chinese partners will take you seriously, moving you closer to your goal.
  • Long periods of silence are also not uncommon in Chinese negotiations. These can last from a few seconds to several minutes. Since this can be perceived as unpleasant in other cultures, it tends to be taken advantage of in China. Show yourself to be unperturbed by this, endure the silent period and don’t say anything just because you feel pressure to speak and make a compromise.

Conversation techniques

Keep in mind that you should communicate more indirectly with your Chinese business partners than you may be used to. While you may be used to expressing yourself directly and objectively, this is typically perceived as impolite in China. Try to respect this by communicating in a roundabout way, merely hinting at critical issues and always remaining polite and humble. This not only saves face for you and your Chinese counterparts, but it also shows respect.

And one last tip: “yes” in China may mean something completely different from what you’re used to. It can mean “Yes, I’m listening and will continue to listen,” or it can mean “Yes, I’ll think about it.” It doesn’t necessarily express complete agreement. Please keep this in mind!

We wish you success and, of course, we hope you have fun with your upcoming negotiations. But please keep in mind that there’s no such thing as “the” Chinese negotiations. As is often the case, it’s not just the culture, but also the situation and people’s individual personalities that decide how negotiations go. If you want to learn more about our cross-cultural offerings on a total of 80 different target countries, check out our website and familiarize yourself with our portfolio of cross-cultural topics.


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About Sophie Humpisch

I studied business communication and cross-cultural competence. During my studies I lived abroad for a long time and therefore experienced cross-cultural differences on my own. I have been with Eidam & Partner since 2014, being responsible for the support and recruiting of cross-cultural experts. Eidam & Partner offers worldwide services related to cross-cultural communication, such as cross-cultural training, cross-cultural coaching, eLearning and preparation for international assignments for more than 80 target countries.
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