Chinese Negotiation Trends – Revenge of the Avoiders

We’ve spoken about the 5 types of negotiators:  Competitive, Compromising, Yielding, Avoiding and Collaborating.  Most western negotiators in China are familiar with the collaborative counter-party — who wants to form high-flying joint ventures and dominate big swathes of the marketplace.  We’ve also seen our share of competitive negotiators who not only want the gold fillings in our teeth — but they insist we use their brother as the dentist (at our expense). During the go-go bull market days, these guys dominated the landscape of China business.

But now the moment belongs to that quiet, unnoticed group — Avoiders. We encounter these people all the time:

The boss is out of town.

I don’t make that decision.

That’s the policy / This is the way we do it here.

Get us the proposal tomorrow and we’ll call you.

I’m too busy right now.

These are the bureaucrats, the gate-keepers and the 9-5ers who were usually not worth the trouble.  They were too difficult to deal with — and the kinds of deals they wanted to do were too small-scale to justify the effort.  

Well, prolonged downturns are the domain of Avoiders.  You, the fast paced Competitor or the close-the-deal-now Compromiser are out of your element in a slow-paced economy.  The Avoiders have all the right moves down:  they’re slow to act, they know the market (because they’ve seen everyone), they have options and they never seem to having any burning need.  Avoiders generally have manageable fixed costs and are pretty comfortable in their organization.   

These are the SOEs – the State Owned Enterprises or big companies with access to official funding.  These are (sometimes) the profitable branches of overseas MNC giants.  Marginally profitable unsexy mid-sized companies and family businesses.  Avoiders are the middle of the market that never really seemed a high priority when phones were ringing off the hook. 

The important thing to remember with Avoiders is that they use a calendar — not a stopwatch.  Aggressive negotiating techniques usually don’t get great results with Avoiders.  In China, avoidance is a highly developed art form, so if you’re thinking of charming your way up the queue to meet the real decision-maker – well charm on.  It could be slow going – and you don’t have that kind of time.   Just remember — many competitive deal-makers get tired of banging their head against the brick wall end up yielding big-time on price, IP, schedule and other deal terms.  And that’s just what the Avoiders are looking for.

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