When Ni Hao means Goodbye

When do you say goodbye?  Power balance and post-boom China negotiation.

I was facilitating a negotiation simulation recently at the Shanghai offices of a Euro-based multinational.  It was clear from the get-go that the two parties weren’t going to reach an agreement.   The negotiators for the team representing the big, rich American firm was acting like bullies – not even letting the ‘local side’ of the simulation finish articulating their opening positions.  What should you do if you find yourself rolling a boulder up a very steep mountain?

There are 3 good options, one bad one.

The Good:


  1. Change the rules of the game.  Go around, above, underneath or straight through, but take some type of control over the process.  Change the venue, break up into smaller groups, and bring someone else in.  Take a step back and try to negotiate about process or big-picture mission statements, or zoom in and try to focus on one small obstacle or bit of common ground to give you a quick & easy mutual win.  The point is to do something to asset some control over the direction of the meeting – or you will certainly end up with a bad deal.
  2.   Walk away – slow.  Switch the power balance.  This works best if he has traveled a long distance to negotiate a deal – or if his bosses think a big win is likely.  If you are the one that has come to China for this meeting, then you had better make sure you have a Plan B.  HINT:  Acceptable Plan B’s include – other prospects, other potential partners or other potential suppliers.  Have this set up in advance, and your BOP (Balance of Power) is much stronger.
  3.     Learn about his business.  If this guy likes talking so much, get him talking about his technology, his competitors, and his market plans.  Make some mistakes that he’ll jump on – tell him his technology isn’t leading edge or that his competitors have better customer service.  He’ll probably be so quick to ‘correct’ your idiotic misconceptions that he’ll tell you some key facts – like who his clients and competitors are.   

Bad option:


  1. Stand there with your eyes closed, windmilling your fists and hoping to land a killer blow before you get beaten down.  If the guy isn’t treating you with respect now, then he’s probably not going to discover your inner beauty and talents after kicking you around the meeting room for 25 minutes.  If you stuck with lemons, then use the above tactics to try making lemonade.  But once it’s clear that you are simply being pressured you gain very little by sitting there taking body-blows.  Chinese negotiators are known to get belligerent and aggressive – it’s often a cover for weakness or skeletons.  Chinese counter-parties are expert at running down the clock – don’t be surprised if the uncooperative jerk across from you on days 1 & 2 suddenly transforms into someone much more professional and reasonable 5 hours before your flight leaves.  But there are also plenty of counter-parties who would make inappropriate partners or supplies.  Sometimes are rough stone can be polished into a gem – but sometimes it’s just a rock. 

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My name is Andrew Hupert, and I’m a teacher and writer in Shanghai. I am now working on a project for my International Negotiation class at New York University’s Shanghai campus (in cooperation with East China Normal University). 


Thanks very much for your cooperation in my research. I would be happy to share raw data with any participants who wish to see it, and will publish my findings on ChinaSolved.com , ChineseNegotiation.com and DiligenceChina.com .


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