Know Your Chinese Counterparty: Competitive Negotiating Style

Chinese Negotiating Styles: Competitive Types

G. Richard Shell, in the brilliant Bargaining for Advantage, classified all negotiators as Competitive, Compromising, Accommodating, Collaborating or Avoiding. If you care primarily about your own benefit and not at all about your counterparty’s, you are competitive. If your concern lies mainly with your counterparty’s benefit (such as those who must negotiate from weakness) then your style is accommodating or yielding. Those that believe in win-win, 2+2=5 deal-making are collaborators, while those that would rather not engage in any transaction at all are avoiders. Compromisers are more of a default setting, and many negotiators don’t consider it to be an independent style.

Chinese negotiators, with their attention to relationship building and harmony, are often mistakenly assumed to be highly collaborative. In fact, Chinese negotiators have traditionally had great facility with the bottom two quadrants of Shell’s matrix – SOE managers and bureaucrats display an avoiding style while price-cutting manufacturers and service providers who want a deal at any price are accommodators.

But with great success comes great pride, and China has been VERY successful in the last decade. They’ve imported much of the best of western business learning – and a few of the worst of our business habits. Egos have been rising as fast as the GDP, and nowadays you are as likely to encounter Chinese competitors at the negotiating table as their American counterparts.

American vs. Chinese Competitive Negotiators
An American competitor will lean forward and control as much of the table as possible. His power comes from the things he says – be they threats or promises. He is the battlefield commander, calling the shots and bringing the awesome firepower of his intellect to bear on the opposing forces.

A Chinese competitor, in contrast, is the emperor of the boardroom. He will sit back, turning his chair into a throne, deigning others to approach and present their case. Control of access is his key strength. He may not be able to decide who has physical access to his presence, but he can control what he says and to whom he says it. These are the entrepreneurs, the engineers-turned-managers, and the party cadres whose definition of business skill often includes connections, corruption, IP theft and fraud.

The good news is that Chinese competitors tend to overestimate their own position. They are easy to spot, and behave fairly predictably. Considering how mysterious and withholding they consider themselves to be, the Chinese are actually pretty easy to read. This style of Chinese negotiator likes to give the appearance of being able to endure any amount of pain, and would gladly see both of your fail rather than give up ground to the foreigner across the table. He does, however, have a significant weakness. While a competitive-type Chinese negotiator is happy to see you walk away with no deal, he hates the idea of you falling into the clutches of another Chinese competitor. Plan in advance and neutralize his advantage.

The bad news is that you are involved in a straight-up win-lose hypercompetitive relationship. . The chances of a one-off transaction with this kind of Chinese negotiator are fairly high, but the possibility of a strategic relationship are not. Once you have made your deal, he is going to move on to the next victim. These people are zero-sum gamers who want only two things from you – your assets and your absence

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