Chinese Negotiator Has a Split Personality

Are Chinese deal-makers patient & reserved or quick & direct?  Yes.

I spoke with two real estate professionals over the weekend in NYC in separate conversations about their recent experiences with mainland Chinese clients (both of whom turned out to be from Shanghai).  Their experiences were so different it was hard to believe the men in question came

Does your Chinese client plan on seeing you again?
Does your Chinese client plan on seeing you again?

from the same city.  Type 1 was the no-nonsense, bare-knuckled, “what’s your best price right now” street haggler.   Type 2 was the patient, reserved, “cards close to the vest” deep thinker.  Which one represents the true nature of Chinese negotiators?  Unfortunately for you, both do.  You may run into either deal-making personality, depending on their intent and situation.  The basic question that predicts which set of traits they’ll project:  Do they plan on seeing you again or not?

If a Chinese negotiator knows that he won’t ever have business dealings with you or anyone you know again, then he is as direct and mercenary as anyone you’ve ever met (even by NYC standards).  Chinese will tell you that this is the “modern, international Chinese”, but it is actually the continuation of the tough mercantile trader persona that has been around since Huangdi  bought his first training-sword.  Chinese are known as tough, abrupt, no nonsense traders.

If, on the other hand, he thinks there is a good chance that he will be doing business with you again in the future then he will run through his entire relationship-building repertoire, which involves all the cultural touchstones like face, harmony and guanxi.

What about our 2 NYC realtors who had such different experiences with two Mainlanders who, for all we know, were neighbors back home?   These variables probably influenced the behavior of the Chinese clients:

1. Buyer or seller.  If they are the ones paying, the Chinese tend to be slower and more reserved.  They are risk averse — not sensitive to opportunity cost or time.  If they are selling it is a different story – then they are much more sensitive to opportunity cost.  Remember – Chinese negotiators use relationship-building as a form of due diligence, so it is part of their risk-management strategy.

2.  Were you introduced by someone they respect?  This immediately bumps you up from the “transaction” category to the “relationship” category.  If you know the right people, you are now part of his network.

3.  Your perceived social status.  Chinese negotiators are very into status, so if you seem wealthy, have a prestigious address, a big office, live in the neighborhood and display other signs of status, you are more likely to get the “relationship” treatment.

4.  How useful do they think you are?  If they feel you have discretion or power over the deal, then it is worthwhile to build a relationship.  If you are simply a glorified salesclerk, then they will treat you as such.

5. Their power within the group.  If the Chinese are negotiating in a group, those at the very top and the very bottom are nice, patient and considerate.  The ones at the bottom have to be, the ones at the top can afford to be.  The ones in the middle are under pressure to show results, and they tend to be tougher and more direct.

Neither role is particular unique to the Chinese, and both have advantages and drawbacks as negotiators.  The no-nonsense take-it-or-leave it trader may be abrupt, but you’ll know where you stand and won’t waste time.  You just have to size him up and respond appropriately.  The slow relationship guy will find direct Q&A jarring, and you may scare him off.  You’ll have to invest more time and effort to make him comfortable before he makes a decision.

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