China: Let’s Make a Deal!


Let’s Make a Deal!

The exchange of business cards is an essential step when meeting someone for the first time, so bring more than you need. If someone presents you with his or her card and you do not offer one in return, the person will assume that you either do not want to make their acquaintance, that your status in your company’s hierarchy is very low, or, quite to the contrary, that your status is very high. Since many people are unable to read English, it’s better to use a card with one side in English and other in Chinese. Show doctorate degrees on your card and make sure that it clearly states your professional title, especially if you have the seniority to make decisions. If any facts about your company are particularly noteworthy, for instance, if it’s the oldest in your country or industry, mention this on your card since the Chinese view this very favorably. Present your business card with two hands, and ensure that the Chinese side is facing the recipient. Similarly, accept others’ cards using both hands if possible. Smile and make eye contact while doing so, then examine the card carefully.

At the beginning of a meeting, there is normally some small talk. This allows participants to become personally acquainted. It’s best to let the local side set the pace and follow along. The most senior members of your group should lead the discussion. In Chinese business culture, it’s inappropriate for subordinates to interrupt. It is good to make a presentation, but keep it simple and avoid over-designing it. Verify through diplomatic questions whether your audience understands you. Since saving face is so important, people will not openly admit it in front of others of they do not understand what you are presenting. You should bring a sufficient number of copies of anything you present, such that each attendee gets one. The appearance of your presentation materials is not very important as long as you include good and easy-to-understand visuals. Use diagrams and pictures wherever feasible, cut down on words, and avoid complicated expressions. Have your handout materials translated to Chinese or make it bilingual.

When a meeting is over, you should leave before your Chinese counterparts do.

Chinese negotiators are willing to spend considerable time gathering information and discussing various details before negotiation. Information is rarely shared freely, since the Chinese believe that privileged information creates bargaining advantages. Also, the Chinese treat “outside” information with caution. Be careful with what you are willing to share of yourself and protect your intellectual property. In China, people may consider all information available to them a property they are entitled to use to their best interest.

Expect negotiations to be slow and protracted. Relationship building, information gathering, bargaining, and decision making may all take considerable time. Furthermore, negotiators often attempt to wear you down in an effort to obtain concessions. Be prepared to make several trips if necessary to achieve your objectives. Throughout the negotiations, be patient, show little emotion and accept that delays occur.

Even after the contract is signed, the Chinese will often continue to press for a better deal.

Do not bring an attorney to the negotiation table, since this may be taken as a sign that you do not trust your counterparts.