Negotiators in China can’t overlook internal negotiation.

Internal Negotiation and the China Team 

I often get called in to work with Shanghai-based sales and purchasing teams on their negotiating skills. 

 Chinese HR departments tend to focus more on negotiation training than those in other places.  Where a western manager will arrange for sales training or leadership & development programs, Chinese managers feel that their teams need to sharpen their communication and deal-making skills.

 This is great – up to a point.  Most of the teams I work with, however, are made up of mid-level managers in large, bureaucratic MNCs (multinational corporations) – and they simply don’t have the latitude or organizational power to change the deal terms they are discussing.  In other words, they want to learn how to negotiate and close deals – WHEN THEY ARE UNABLE TO COMPROMISE OR CREATE.   


There are only two possible solutions to this waste of resources.  First, we can all decide to grant every salesperson and purchasing manager complete autonomy to make any kind of deal they want during a negotiation.  Since this is unlikely to happen, the second option is to introduce the notion of “internal negotiation” to the China-based operation. 


Internal negotiation is the process of bargaining with your own company’s senior management to put together the best package and set realistic goals for the deal on the table.   Some Chinese staffers feel that this is inappropriate and disrespectful – but it is actually an important aspect of business communication.  If you are not sharing your ideas, impressions and experiences with supervisors then you are not fulfilling your responsibilities as a manager.


Many Chinese sales and purchasing professionals are engaging in internal negotiations without even knowing it.  Counterparties who are unable to show flexibility or compromise often end up going back to their bosses with ultimatums, complaints or delays from dissatisfied partners.  But if you are the one reporting on impasses and bottlenecks then you are not really a negotiator – you are a messenger. 

A more effective approach is to carry out internal negotiations in advance.  Since your boss (and his bosses) probably won’t feel that this is the best use of their time your first attempt at negotiating will be to convince them to listen to your ideas and suggestions.  

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