When you enter into business negotiations with your Chinese business partners, please keep in mind that they are indeed your partners. Any tendency towards superiority that you may have is totally out of place. Many times, I have seen Westerners and other overseas customers tend to look down on their Chinese counterparts because they may not be fluent in English or do not speak English at all.
This unacceptable and unprofessional behavior does not do justice to really hard working people who do not enjoy the luxury of a cozy office and working environment that Westerners are accustomed to.
National pride and feelings can play a role in the business relationship for both the Chinese and foreigners. The Chinese have the oldest surviving civilization in the world with historical records dating back more than 4,000 years. Chinese civilization has contributed many inventions and discoveries to Western civilization. The Chinese take great pride in their contributions to mankind. Likewise, Westerners take pride in their country’s contributions and prosperity. This does not make either business partner superior and if left unchecked it will only hinder business negotiations.
It may surprise you to learn how many of your Chinese business partners can actually follow an English conversation quite well but choose not let you know it.
This gives them the big advantage of thinking about an appropriate response during the time you’re question or comment is being interpreted.
It is also often overlooked that some staff capable of understanding your mother tongue quite well accompany Chinese company owners. This especially applies to German, Japanese, French, and Spanish along with English. They may not inform you about their skill but will inform the manager or owner, in one way or another, what you and a colleague were discussing among yourselves.
The fact is you should never discuss proprietary information in any language during meetings. You could easily give away guarded information such as the highest price you are willing to pay for goods.
Appearances May Not Agree with Reality
When in China you will also meet with business partners whose appearance and behavior may not be compatible with western expectations. Bear in mind that these people are usually in control of large and sometimes very large factories and earn much more money than you will ever dream of.
Therefore, please be careful not to confuse appearance with real power. The gentleman you are reluctant to talk with may be the only one who can make decisions.
China is changing rapidly and so is the way business negotiations are conducted. I have seen factory owners unable to speak English that were in control of only a small factory a few years ago. Today, they still cannot speak English but have grown their enterprise into a workforce of tens of thousands of workers with as a many as seven large factories, all within just 10 years or so. These people have become very powerful indeed.
Another fact seldom known by Westerners is that factory owners talk to each other even though they are competitors. They exchange information to a certain extend as long as it fits their strategy. Therefore, it can happen that the confidential information given to one Chinese factory is already known by your next contact before you have even reached his factory during your business trip.
You may be confused if a Chinese manager does not take any notes during a meeting. This may even lead you to believe he or she does not take your business relationship seriously. My observation is that the Chinese people have a much better memory than Westerners because their brain has been trained since childhood to keep the large number of Chinese characters in their memory. So do not worry, your counterpart will not forget the content of your discussions because he has likely memorized it.
It is also true nowadays that more and more Chinese managers are accompanied by senior staff that use their notebook computer to record important meeting points. This is especially true during Trade Fairs when factory managers need to maintain communication with their head office during their absence.
Many buyers or importers are also relying heavily on their notebook computers. If you are still taking hand written notes the old-fashioned way, please give it another thought. I strongly suggest you take a notebook computer with you and use it during your meetings. It is so much more convenient and you have all the necessary information on hand without the need to carry heavy box files with you. This eBook will teach you the details of Chinese business etiquette and strategies of how to achieve your negotiation goals without the loss of face for either side.