US-China Negotiating Rule: Don’t Kiss Frogs in China

In China, counter-party selection is more important than potential deal terms. Good partners don’t necessarily lead to good deals, but bad partners always lead to disaster. The Chinese know this about themselves – that’s why guanxi and networking are so important here. Westerners have a different set of terms – due diligence and reputation – but the meaning is analogous for business purposes.

If you are dealing with an honest, competent guy then due diligence isn’t particularly difficult. He has references, ongoing partnerships and relationships. But it’s up to you to lay down the right ground-work and then ask the right questions. Those annoying banquets and drawn-out lunches aren’t just for show – the Chinese are performing their due diligence on you. You should respond in kind – volunteering background information and sketching out general plans and priorities. They are getting to know you. Yeah, they are interested in how many kids you have – but what they really want to know is how stable and trustworthy you are as a partner. It’s ok for you to ask similar questions – about their plans for growth, expansion and client relationships. Keep it general and comfortable at the early stages – but don’t act like a buffoon talking ONLY about how developed Shanghai is or how much you enjoy Chinese food. They’re working, and you should be too.

If you are dealing with a dishonest, unreliable partner, due diligence is extremely easy. He won’t be able to provide a single relevant reference, and your job should be done. Walk away and don’t look back. It really is that simple.

Chinese partners who are reliable and solid today will be just as solid next year. The sketchy guy who flatters you but tries hoodwinking you over nickel & dime issues today is going to be just as sketchy next year.

Western bedtime stories talk about a frog that turns into a prince when shown a little trust and respect. The Chinese don’t have that story – and there’s a good reason.

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