China 101: Chinese Negotiation. 10 Top Tips for Chinese Negotiation (part I).

This article on “Chinese Negotiation” is part of the China 101 project. I would like to thank Andrew Hupert who has kindly accepted my invitation to join this project and has shared with us his best advice on the topic.
Andrew Hupert has spent the last 9 years as a corporate trainer, writer, and lecturer in Shanghai, working with both local and multinational businesses.  His professional work has focused on improving the deal-making and negotiating skills of both local and multinational corporations.

Andrew publishes several websites and weblogs concerned with international management and cross-cultural negotiation involving China: addresses management issues for international managers already engaged in running a China-based operation. focuses on China-US negotiating issues.
He has also published articles in business journals such as Shanghai Business Review and the China Economic Review.  He has recently published his first book – Guanxi for the Busy American.

China 101: Chinese Negotiation. 10 Top Tips for Chinese Negotiation.

Negotiating in China isn’t a special niche for an elite group of international lawyers and diplomats any more.  China is the second largest economy in the world and is becoming a vital counterparty for many individuals and businesses that have never done cross-border deals before. If you haven’t done business with a counterparty from China yet, then it is probably only a matter of time before you or someone in your organization does.  Plenty of Westerners have had great success in China, but it requires preparation and a little research.

Chinese negotiators have an undeserved reputation for being difficult, enigmatic, and unpredictable.  They simplyhave their own approach to business.  Since the global financial crisis of 2008, however, Chinese dealmakers are more confident and secure in their own methods.  Westerners who expect Chinese negotiators to accommodate American or European notions of best practices are setting themselves up for failure.  Chinese negotiators aren’t about to abandon traditional methods like relationship-building and guanxi that have been successful for them, especially since Western standard operating procedure has been looking so shaky over the last few years.  When you negotiate in China, you are in their house – and if you don’t understand the local rules then it is your problem, not theirs.

Here are ten tips that will help Western negotiators be more successful in China.

1.  Don’t disregard guanxi.
Chinese negotiators don’t have to like you, but they have to feel that they know you and understand how you’ll behave as a partner.  In the West, successful transactions lead to relationships – in China, successful relationships lead to transactions.  You have to understand the difference.  Relationship-building rituals like banquets and boardroom meetings where you are introduced to the entire management hierarchy aren’t a prelude to serious negotiating — they are the negotiation.

2.  Guanxi and relationship-building are the traditional Chinese version of due diligence.
They care more about the kind of person you are than the assets your company controls.  Show them who you are if you want to move forward.  While it’s true that Chinese negotiators don’t like to settle details right away, they are still “on the job” during the social meetings and banquets.  To the Chinese side, understanding your character, business philosophy, risk tolerance, and commitment to China determines what kind of partner you are going to be.  If you are evasive, uncomfortable, or withholding during the initial meetings, they may consider you to be dishonest or untrustworthy.

3.  Chinese negotiations don’t end.
The Chinese side feels that they aren’t supposed to.   Westerners believe that a signed contract regulates the partnership, but Chinese feel that an understanding between honest people is the only true constant in an otherwise unpredictable business world. Traditional Chinese negotiators don’t draw a sharp distinction between relationship and negotiation, so as long as the relationship is intact then deal terms are in play.   They feel that environmental shifts and changes in relative circumstances are valid reasons for renegotiation.Plan for the post-contract negotiation in advance, because it is most certainly going to occur.

4.  They will make a play for your IP. 
Technology, processes, and know-how are considered private property in the West, but many Chinese still consider them to be intangibles that are up for grabs.  Saying they can’t have something only makes it more desirable.  Don’t expect to collect rent on last-year’s innovations.  Chinese only pay for technology once (if at all).  The best way to handle software and technology sales is to start planning significant upgrades early.  Apple keeps partners honest and stays profitable in China by perpetually selling the next version.

5.  The same people who can open doors can shut them and lock you out.
Don’t assume that you will be running the show.  If your strategy involves relying on local partners, key staff, or powerful connections to keep your business going, you are in a precarious position.  Successful negotiators are constantly building up their network and adding new connections.  Negotiating strength is a function of the size of your contact list.

Coming soon. China 101: Chinese Negotiation (part II)

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