Business Negotiation in China: Why Common Ground Isn’t

She’s a very friendly, open-minded, internationally-experienced Australian professional with a great attitude about her first business deal in China. I asked her about negotiating strategy and she was very confident – “I plan on treating Chinese exactly the same as I would anyone else. I’m going to establish common ground…”

The search for common ground in China:  Don’t do it!

It’s a nice idea, but there are 3 problems:

  • 1. Common ground isn’t. Most people who look for common ground are white, English
    I heart common ground
    Don’t be that guy.

    speaking, affluent Christians between the ages of 25 and 49. You are not common. That is not common. When you say common ground you really mean YOUR very special ground. The Chinese (or Asian, African, Latin American, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, etc…) negotiator already feels that he has compromised to meet you on your common ground. “We’ve already made plenty of compromises – now it’s your turn.”

  • 2. Some people like their differences. Don’t automatically assume that everyone loves your idea of common ground. Speaking English, playing by YOUR int’l rules, jettisoning his standard operating procedures – all of this is a huge burden. He expects to be compensated – or at least appreciated.
  • 3. As soon as a conflict arises – or becomes profitable – the other guy leaves your common ground. Your business customs and procedures suddenly become a point of contention – not a framework for harmony.

Common ground, otherwise known as the status quo, always favors one side. You say “common ground” or “international standards” in China and your local counterparties hear “Western advantages”.

When you negotiate in China, don’t come over looking for common ground. You are better off planning – and budgeting – for bridge building.


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