How to Negotiate with the Chinese

We are continuing our cycle about how to interact with partners from other countries, and today's topic is China. We don't plan to repeat the points we made last time about Japan, like punctuality, respect, and the whole story with bowing, which are similar in China. Let's take a look at some new aspects and points of difference, and at the end, our business development manager Elena Pyannikova(Елена Пьянникова) will give us some interesting insights about business relationships with Chinese partners.

1) Prepare a group for negotiations

The Chinese prefer to work in groups. Individualism is not a virtue here, so when traveling to China or preparing to meet with Chinese businesspeople, you're better off assembling a group of people. However, don't count on directness or honesty in the group meeting. If you need someone's personal opinion about something, you'll have to arrange a tête-à-tête.

2) Respect small talk

During negotiations, you should start by spending time on light refreshments. It's a part of guanxi—building business relations, which is very important in Chinese culture. Ask about your partner's family, find out what he thinks about the current political situation. Don't be surprised if you don't mention business at all in your first meeting.

3) Don't flap your gums and don't rush

Speak slowly and use brief expressions.

Don't get nervous if your interlocutor starts taking sudden pauses during your conversation—it's a normal thing for them. Pauses are a sign that the issue is worth thinking about and considering from many perspectives.

Don't expect a quick reaction from your Chinese colleagues. Many Asian businesspeople like to express their own opinions after carefully considered decisions have been made.

4) Don't skimp on an interpreter

This is incredibly important in China. Discuss the topics you plan to bring up with your interpreter. That way you'll be able to tell if they know the specific terms of the issues you are going to be discussing.

Also, always address your speech to the person you want to talk to, not their interpreter.

5) Find out how best to address your partner

Names has a special place in Chinese culture. You should make sure you find out exactly what to call people the first time you meet them. Also, remember that Chinese surnames typically go first, and then are followed by their title.

6) Never present yourself as winning or others as losing in a discussion

It's important to allow people a way to save face. Your interlocutors need a way to walk back claims.

7) Never say "no" directly

Look for other, less direct ways to express your disagreement. For example, "I'll have to think about that" or "I'm not sure we'd be able to do that."


We asked Lena, of course, about communicating in the business world of China and have recorded what you need to know when conducting business negotiations with representatives of the so-called Celestial Empire.

Of the main features of Chinese people who were born, grew up in, and live in China, I can say two for certain: never expect straightforwardness and simple honesty from them. In order to avoid an unpleasant, but straightforward answer, they may employ deception. The personal discomfort they experience from unpleasant directness is much higher than from deception.

Chinese people of the older generation (now about 40 and older), do not trust each other and treat foreign partners with caution. In Chinese culture, deception is not taboo. And if you managed to deceive someone, then from the point of view of European values, this is definitely bad, but in the Chinese system, it means that you are smarter than the one you deceived, more cunning and savvy.

And one last point, I noticed when we were eating. The seating of guests plays a rather large role—they should be sat closer to the place where the food starts to be distributed. Also, the Chinese attach great importance to a small ritual during clinking glasses: so, in order to express their respect for someone they are sharing an alcoholic beverage with, a Chinese person can lower his glass. Sometimes you can get an interesting show, when two Chinese partners try to outdo each other in this, and it can end on the tabletop.

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