China has always been more than a country for the Westerners. And today it remains a mind-boggling phenomenon difficult to comprehend. So when Western businesses come to China, they often inadvertently ignore the subtleties of the Chinese business style and mentality of their Chinese counterparts. In this post I would like to draw from my experience living and working in China to outline some of the peculiarities of the local business communication.
Perhaps, the most notable is the “beat around the bush” behavior when the Chinese and Asians in general take their time to ask the negotiating partner about his or her family situation and personal matters. Going straight to the subject matter is considered rude and inconsiderate. After all, personal touch is good in any culture, so it is highly recommended to pay due attention to the informal intro.
During the negotiating phase proper, Chinese still try avoid concrete details, which should not be interpreted as dishonesty. Rather, it is the tactics of “feeling the stones while crossing the river”. In other words, the Chinese are being good listeners and want to hear your point first. You can’t force your Chinese partners to get down to number crunching yet. The word you’ll hear most at this stage is 比较 or “relatively, comparatively”. All you’ll certainly find out is that their price is relatively cheap and supply is relatively abundant!
Finally, it’s time to nail down the deal and voila… nothing happens. You go home empty-handed. Or at least you think so. In reality, your Chinese counterparts just want some time to think it over and the numbers will finally surface when you are on your Hawaii vacation, at which point you would need to interrupt it and finalize the deal.
How do you get what you want relatively soon? Well, try to immerse yourself in the Chinese business communication style. Do not rush things and try to give up the initiative. Ask them to tell you more about their company, what they have accomplished, what experience they have had with foreign partners. Say a toast to successful future cooperation and drink to the bottom with them. Do get personal and be a good listener just like your Chinese partners.
There are a couple of other things that one must keep in mind while dealing with small business. One is regulatory harassment many of them are subject to. Government clerks solicit bribes from entrepreneurs in return for various permits. Your Chinese partners need to be assured they won’t have too much legal hassle dealing with you. It would be great if you could offer some assistance, but be careful not to get harassed yourself. Another thing is stealing trade secrets and dishonesty in general. The priority for a great number of companies is how to make money fast and easy and then disappear so check where the catch is and make sure you are not overcharged.