Lessons from the G20 for “Regular” Negotiators

China’s treatment of the U.S. delegation as President Obama arrived at the G20 conference sparked controversy and a firestorm of international criticism. There are some great lessons here for front-line negotiators involved in cross-border deals.

Barack Obama ‘deliberately snubbed’ by Chinese in chaotic arrival at G20 – The Guardian

The US president was denied the usual red carpet welcome and forced to ‘go out of the ass’ of Air Force One, observers say

China chides media’s hype of G20 spat – Global Times

Overblown reports show arrogance: foreign ministry

Lessons from the G20 “tarmac row”

The conflict may or may not have been serious – but it was real. It says a lot about both the US and Chinese cultures. The Chinese infuriated the world with their hostile behavior. (Don’t be politically correct and insist on saying “perceived hostility”. Many people were angered by the way national security adviser Susan Rice was treated on that airport tarmac, and you may have been one of them. Own it.)  We infuriate the Chinese by talking about it publicly.

The Fragile Bridge
The Fragile Bridge: Conflict Management in Chinese Business
  1. Mitigating or glossing over the conflict as “unimportant” is counter-productive and dangerous. This was a significant event, and if you are negotiating with a Chinese counter-party then you need a plan for dealing with similar encounters.
  2. Ignoring them or pretending that they are immaterial to your business is a major blunder. Your negotiating counter-party is a serious person with experience, values, and attitudes that are very different from yours. Culture gaps are real, and they are not going away. If you are going to work with a Chinese counter-party, then these differences will be part of your business — and part of your life.
  3. Say “thank you”. The Chinese side is supplying your with free information. They are illustrating who they are, what they care about, and how they react to situations. Accidental honesty is the most significant kind. Behaviors are deeply rooted and consistent. Ignore them at your own risk.

Next Steps for front-line negotiators:

You just got a free lesson, so make sure you have learned something from it. If you are doing business with a Chinese client – or ANY COUNTER-PARTY – then there is a simple two-step process for dealing with cultural difference.
Step 1: Analyze HIM. It is your job to understand his attitudes, his values, and his culture.
Step 2: Adjust YOURSELF. Successful negotiators know they must make appropriate adjustments to their own behavior, deal structure, and business plan.

It is human nature to do just the reverse – analyze us and attempt to adjust our counter-parties, but this only leads to conflict, failed deals, and value destruction. Break the cycle and build a negotiating plan that acknowledges (and even leverages) cultural differences.



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