The Chinese style of negotiation and business talks is fundamentally different from the European, or more broadly, the Western style we know of. In China, many issues that seem irrelevant or certainly not of the highest rank to Europeans, are taken very seriously and with a great care. This includes the general social hierarchy, which translates into company relationships, courtesy and a long process of establishing a partnership. It is worth noting that the Chinese style of negotiation is being westernized dynamically. Nowadays, it is quite often tha cooperation with a Chinese partner resembles, in fact, a synthesis of Eastern and Western styles. Nevertheless, it is worth knowing the basic principles of the Chinese negotiating style in order to gain the trust of potential contractors and, consequently, ensure smooth business relations with Chinese partners.


These principles include the following:


1. Be aware of who is the boss. Having knowledge of the hierarchy of the negotiating team is of key importance, as it allows you to show due respect to the other party, positively influencing the course of future negotiations. The most important issues are agreed with the boss. His lower-level colleagues, on the other hand, remain generally silent or take part in the negotiation of minor details.
2. It is worth remembering the names of the most important members of the contractor’s team. This may be difficult at first (especially if you do not know the Chinese language), but this detail will certainly be appreciated by the Chinese negotiating team. It will also prove to them that the negotiations are treated seriously.
3. The business cards should be handed out with both hands. Before handing over the business cards, one should shake hands with the other and lean slightly. This behaviour confirms the knowledge of Chinese business etiquette. This gesture can also impress the Chinese side and make us be seen as a reliable partner. Put your business card in front of you on the table. Under no circumstances should it be hidden in your pocket or bag at once, as this would be a sign of disrespect for Chinese customs.
4. The first meetings are primarily held for the purpose of getting to know each other. During them, strictly business-related topics are avoided. In Chinese culture, negotiations are a process that should result in an agreement but must be preceded by the establishment of the so-called guanxi, or partnership. Establishing an honest, friendly relationship on a private basis facilitates later negotiations and brings more benefits in the future. A lot of time needs to be reserved since Chinese negotiations take a long time and involve both private and business meetings, far deviating from Western standards. Under no circumstances can boredom or impatience be shown during the negotiations.
5. The Chinese avoid direct refusal during the negotiations. They do not like the word ‘no’, especially in professional relations. If an issue does not suit either side, rather than directly expressing dissatisfaction, it is better, for example, to postpone discussion of the issue until later. This sends out an understandable signal that the specific aspect of the negotiations seems to be controversial.
6. Chinese businessmen value cooperation with the best. It is therefore worth taking care of the company’s image so that the potential contractor is convinced of its high reputation and first-class quality of its services or products. Entrepreneurs from China like to be sure that the service offered by the contractor is the most expensive on the market, even if it does not fully meet their needs. If a company is not the only specialist in a given industry, it is worth drawing the attention of Chinese partners to what makes its product better than that of other competitors on the market.
7. Punctuality is another feature highly valued by the Chinese. Being present a few minutes before the meeting will certainly be very well received. However, care should be taken not to come too early. Then the Chinese partners may feel offended and see the premature presence as disrespectful. In addition, such behaviour may cause the Chinese to feel embarrassed or give them the ‘lost face’ impression.
8. Remember not to sit at the head of the table. The Chinese will certainly make sure that their guests take the right seats. If they consider it appropriate, they will offer the contractor’s representative a place of honour.
9. It is worth paying attention to where the interpreter is located. He should sit next to the head of the company conducting the negotiations, while the Chinese client should sit a little further away. This way he will not be put at risk of being considered a person of a lower status.
10. Before moving on to substantive issues, Western terminology should be properly explained to the Chinese side. Although the increasing globalisation in the business world has led to certain names being adopted equally by European and Chinese companies, there are still significant differences in this regard. Some terms do not exist in China or have a completely different meaning than in Europe, so it is important that the Chinese partner fully understands the context and the vocabulary used.
11. Another thing to remember is to take notes regularly. This is the basis for further negotiations. It allows us to establish what has been agreed so far and, as a result, avoid unnecessary doubts. The Chinese are impressed by the precision and certainty of the other side during the negotiations. Having fulfilled these features, the company can be seen by the Chinese side as a serious business partner.
12. Due to the international character of the negotiations, it is advisable to use your own interpreter. This will ensure smooth discussions and a better understanding between both parties. Make sure that the interpreter keeps up with the speaker’s reasoning. It is important not to overlook the translation of details. Otherwise, there may be a serious misunderstanding. During discussions, you should be facing your Chinese partner, even if the interpreting is done simultaneously. You should also ask the interpreter himself for advice on how to improve communication. His advice will help you to adapt your body language and speech to the specific business situation.
13. Precision and pronunciation at the right pace will make the conversation flow better. At the same time, the interpreter will have the chance to preserve the meaning of the speech to the best possible extent. It is worth repeating key arguments several times, even if another team member has already done so. This will make the Chinese see the company as strong and united. They can appreciate the fact that the company cares about a common position and the associated values of good negotiations.
14. Taking into account cultural differences, slang language should be avoided. Otherwise, the Chinese may perceive the other party as unprofessional. Moreover, it will then be difficult for the interpreter to give the full meaning of the statement, and therefore it is necessary to monitor the compliance of the translation with the original statement on an ongoing basis. Hiring a person who has extensive experience in interpreting negotiations with the Chinese will contribute to the success of the discussion.
15. The argumentation should be made from general points to details. The Chinese prefer to start discussions from the basic and key issues in order to move on to the concrete ones. Therefore, consideration should be given before accepting the initial point of view of the Chinese partner, because later on, it is precisely these findings that will become the basis for further issues and related terms of the contract being negotiated.
16. It is worth being prepared for a different approach to business. While for Western corporations the most important aim is to make quick profits and sell as much as possible, Chinese partners value establishing lasting relations. For the Chinese, business negotiations are like a marriage – arranged from the beginning, developed over time and heading in the right direction, of course, if the partner has been chosen properly.
Kamil Opara,
Magdalena Gaca