China Negotiates Like a Little Girl – and it Works

If you can’t abandon your sulking counterparty, you will have to cave in like a Frenchman.

The open secret among lawyers and deal-makers is that the best negotiator in the world is a six-year old girl – particularly when she is yours.  I’ve seen Harvard lawyers, street-smart hucksters and MBA tyrants collapse like a house of cards when faced with a sulking child. What can the

Chinese negotiating techniques aren't always pretty - but they work
Chinese negotiating techniques aren’t always pretty – but they work

negotiating professional learn from an infant’s tantrum?

  • No doubts. Knows exactly what she wants and how she wants it– right here, right now. Her
    goal system is SMART and self-contained.
  • No compromise. Doesn’t care at all about anyone else’s point of view or longer term considerations. If a crowd gathers or other children join in, well that’s YOUR problem.
  • No limits. Is willing to make everyone’s life an absolute nightmare until she gets what she wants. The angry six-year old is all in, all the time. Humiliation, disdain and widespread disapproval don’t limit her behavior – they empower her.

The six-year old’s true power isn’t the volume or violence of her tantrum – it’s that her key counterparty simple can’t walk away. As any parent will tell you, time-outs are of limited effectiveness and practical value. As long as you can’t abandon the relationship, you will eventually have to make peace with an angry, all-powerful counterparty.

China Negotiates Like a Little Girl – and it works

Professionals and diplomats who negotiate with Chinese SOEs, government representatives or bureaucrats know all too well that China is more Honey Boo Boo sulk than John Wayne posture.

Americans swagger and pound tables to try to intimidate their negotiating counterparty – Europeans play the diplomat and appeal to reason and the common good. Neither is necessarily a bad technique, but they aren’t particularly effective when you are going up against the Chinese government – whose secret weapon is the prolonged pout.
Does it work? Take a look at today’s headlines:

China Southern orders 10 Airbus planes

…The deal is the second involving the French Airbus and a Chinese airline after the European Union (EU) backed down in a dispute with Beijing over jetliner-emission levies on Nov. 12.

Is China Still Upset At Norway For Liu Xiaobo Winning A Nobel Peace Prize? Yes

The Norwegian government is only marginally responsible for the Nobel Peace Prize — its parliament appoints the five-person selection committee — but you wouldn’t know it judging by China’s durian-sized grudge, with spikes of everlasting disdain.

China’s Nobel Laureate Mo Yan Defends Censorship

The pen name of Mo Yan, the Chinese writer who will be awarded this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature on Monday, means “don’t speak.” He says he chose it as a reminder not to say things that would get him into trouble. At a press conference in Stockholm he followed his own advice carefully, describing China’s censorship as sometimes necessary, and declining to repeat earlier comments in support of Liu Xiaobo, the imprisoned Chinese Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

China’s characteristic “long pout” technique is most effective in Europe (emission standards dropped, Mo Yan defends censorship) and NY boardrooms.  And Latin America.   And in Africa.   And the Middle East. And most of Asia.  See what I’m getting at?

Do you spoil or stand firm?

The first step to managing a difficult counterparty is to honestly assess their likely behavior and your range of responses. If have no alternative but to concede and give in – then you are negotiating from a position of weakness.  It doesn’t mean your situation is hopeless, but that you must adjust your approach and prepare your internal stakeholders in advance – which is probably what the bosses at Airbus did.
And don’t expect any hugs after you give in. As any sulky six-year old knows – real power comes from withholding approval. Ask Norway.

Next: Tips for negotiating with a petulant superpower

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