There is uncertainty in US-China business right now. Whatever your politics, there’s no denying that the business environment is going to shift in unknown and unpredictable ways over the next year or so. Let’s talk about how to make this work for you.
Tactical Ambiguity = Using Uncertainty as a Bargaining Chip
Strategic ambiguity is about long-term planning. Tactical ambiguity means turning an unclear situation into a valuable bargaining chip. Don’t minimize the impact of uncertainty or try to put an optimistic spin on everything. Chinese counter-parties generally fear chaos, and plan for success on global markets. Both of those buttons are lighting up bright red — so this is an opportunity to reframe your negotiations and planning sessions. You know your counter-party’s hopes and fears right now, and your job is to turn that to your advantage.
3 Steps to Using Tactical Ambiguity
1. Accept the uncertainty. Make friends with it.
2. Incumbents have new challenges; disruptors have new opportunities.
3. Be the good international partner. Get paid for it.
1. Accept the uncertainty. It’s great to have a generally optimistic outlook on life, but you get paid for risk assessment. Don’t make the rookie mistake of trying to look on the bright side and denying reality. Most of all, don’t take a position that you’ll have to explain later. Politics aside – we simply don’t know what’s going to happen with trade, treaties, or tariffs. Even if you are confident, even if you are hopeful – keep in mind that for most Chinese counter-parties, the risk profile of working with Americans or Britons spiked at the end of 2016. If your Chinese counter-parties aren’t feeling vulnerable or exposed, then maybe that’s something you can explain to them. But be vague.
2. Uncertainty hits organizations in different ways. If your Chinese partners are already selling in the US, then they fear change. If they are still trying to enter developed markets, there is risk of barriers to entry and negative US market perception. Whether they are defending territory in a chaotic regulatory firestorm or looking to exploit creative new opportunities, you can help. This is great time to have a partner (like you) who has a great network and powerful personal connections back home.
3. Revalue your relationship. International bankers and Chinese middle-managers have long made a career out of helping foreigners navigate the complex, baffling world of cross-border business. Up until now, no one really cared about “American expertise” because it wasn’t seen as scarce or particularly useful. That may be changing. Your inside knowledge and personal networks back home are suddenly starting to look more valuable. Weave a couple of populist phrases into your explanations about US politics – but don’t commit to ANYTHING. As the situation at home grows scarier and less certain, your stock as a partner in China rises.
Repeat the following phrases until they sound natural:
“I don’t know what the new policies will be, but we will always stand by our trusted partners.”
“I don’t care about the headlines or sound bites. The real situation is much different – and harder to understand. ”
“This sort of political upset doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. We’ve seen this kind of thing before, and we know how to handle it.”
“This is one of those events that either drives business partners together or destroys them. You are lucky to have me in your corner at a time like this.”
“Only I can help you.”
Don’t hide from the uncertainty. Work it.