This approach is quite different from the Western custom of producing a contract for immediate gain. From a foreign perspective Chinese negotiators may appear vague and even dishonest, while the Chinese perceive foreign negotiators as impatient and too focused on the “bottom line.”
How can foreign business people successfully cope with the challenges of negotiating a deal in China? It’s absolutely essential to be in China when negotiations begin, otherwise known as “face time.” Having a face-to-face meeting will help to gather details not seen or understood over the phone or in emails. It also shows a more serious commitment.
Be prepared for long periods of small talk. This is normal in many Asian countries and China is no exception. Westerners are used to agendas that are decided in advance and get to the most important part of the deal, but in China meetings just begin and proceed this way and that without a definite structure. So, what it comes down to is China is a marathon, not a quick dash to the finish line.
Understand that negotiation is a team sport in China, and across the table you will be faced with several individuals. The tricky part is to identify the key decision maker — usually there is only one — and the person or persons who can influence the decision maker. However, the key decision maker may not even be in the room as a way of saving face if there is a conflict. What you’re seeing here is similar to a battle: the foot soldiers are on the front lines while the generals are safely hidden away.
Learning a few polite phrases in Mandarin or Cantonese will impress the Chinese side. If your Chinese is weak then hire an interpreter, a good one who can put what you say in the appropriate cultural context. The Chinese negotiators will try to wear down a team of foreigners by consistently presenting the same demands but in different ways. Again, this is normal as a way to gain concessions. Be confident, but polite. Storming out of the meeting in anger never works in China!