Chinese Negotiating Agendas Stated vs. Real (Part 3)

Uncovering the Chinese side’s true agenda. Method 2: Learn to the Lies

Some readers responded to our suggestion that western negotiators should ask direct Sign up for the ChinaSolved newsletterquestions to uncover their Chinese counter-party’s real agendas  with skepticism. Won’t aggressive and competitive negotiators simply lie? Yes, some certainly will (and as some people pointed out, that is by no means a purely Chinese phenomenon – but since we are concerned with Chinese negotiation tactics, that’s where we will focus).

If you feel your Chinese counter-party is deceiving you, your next task is to answer these questions:

1) Are they deceiving you?
2) What are they lying about or trying to hide?

Are they practicing deception?

An undergrad student in one of my international negotiation classes once asked me if I believed in body language reading and facial analysis as a negotiation tool. “Yes,” I answered. “Study your counter-party’s face carefully. If his lips are moving, he’s probably lying.” Funny – but not necessarily true. Not all poker players bluff on every hand, and not all negotiators lie in every conversation. Some people don’t like to lie, others feel there is nothing to be gained from it. When working with Chinese counter-parts, start with basics and determine if he is honest or not. It’s just as wrong to assume that everyone lies as to believe that no one does.

The best way to determine the truthfulness of a counter-party is to know more and speak less. Westerners in general, and Americans in particular, are so concerned with getting their own message across and being understood by the Chinese side that they don’t work hard enough at trying to understand the guys across the table. If you have done sufficient industry and market research, then the best way to find out if the Chinese side is trying to deceive you is to give them a chance to speak. Get them to go off-script and engage as many members of their team as possible. If they rigorously control who speaks and what they say, then there’s a good chance they are controlling their information – and that won’t change over the course of your relationship. No one gets more honest as the amount of money or assets in play gets larger.

What are they lying about?

Chinese are proud of their ability to follow the Sun Tzu’s maximum of misdirection and subterfuge. Unfortunately for them it’s well known that they practice misdirection, so you can use that to your advantage. Chinese are known to be complementary and flattering. Well what are they flattering? If they are telling you how smart and handsome and funny you are, you can relax. They’re just being polite – you aren’t that handsome or funny. But when their lavish praise is directed at business issues or your company’s strength, then you should pay attention. You can learn as much about them from what they try to deceive you about, as what they tell you directly. Maybe more. If they are constantly complimenting and commenting on your company’s technology, or international distribution channels then that’s what they’re interested in. They may tell you that they could never do as well and that you are god-like in your ability to manage technology or markets, but they probably are trying to learn about your methods and your IP. In the West, we say that whispering gets the most attention. In China, lies reveal true motivations and plans.

Next: Using Trial Balloons.

read here-smallIf you haven’t already read the report “10 Common China Negotiating Mistakes”, please download it.  We are in the process of developing an interactive online course based on the report, and are looking for 10 beta testers.  If you are interested, please get in touch.

Stay Connected to ChinaSolved /

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon

Join the FREE ChinaSolved Email Mailing List and invite you to participate the ChinaSolved linkedin group.

Twitter: @chinasolved VPN required in China.
Email at

The Fragile Bridge
The Fragile Bridge: Conflict Management in Chinese Business
Guanxi for the Busy American
Because what you don’t know about guanxi can really hurt.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *