Negotiating With Chinese Companies: Screaming As A Tactic

Will doing this help your negotiation with a Chinese company?

I wrote a post the other day on Linkedin, entitled, How to Negotiate with Chinese Companies and someone left the following comment in response:

How bout get in their face and tell it like it is! That usually wipes the fake smiles and nervous laughter off their face pretty quick! Don’t give the Chinese one inch of room to move, if you get pissed bang on the table and scream in their face; they hate confrontation and will always back down. They are constantly worried about a loss of temper from a laowai, if you get a reputation as a hot head you will get what you want.

My initial feeling on seeing this was consternation because anger is rarely a good method for achieving one’s goals, unless and until all else has failed. If you are calm and rational and that does not work, you can try anger and that might work. But if you start out with anger it becomes extremely difficult to win someone over by switching to a calm and rational approach. I am not saying anger never works or never makes sense because it sometimes does. But I am saying using it as a first approach is virtually always unwise. And when you do employ anger, you should be sure to employ it in a controlled way, so your counterpart does not flee from you, but instead realizes you are one favor away from being calm and rational again. I last got angry with Comcast (I mean, who doesn’t) and even then I was sure to constantly interject with “I’m not mad at you, I’m just mad about how Comcast seems to believe I should pay the price for its own incompetence.”

But when it comes to China, I have my doubts about the value of ever using anger as a method for effecting business change. My sense has always been that getting angry will lead your Chinese counterpart to at that moment act as though he or she is agreeing with you and what you are proposing, but once you are gone your Chinese counterpart will do whatever can be done never to have anything to do with you ever again.

Anger in China, does it ever make sense as a strategy for advancing a business deal or relationship? We’d love to see your comments on this below.

16 responses to “Negotiating With Chinese Companies: Screaming As A Tactic”

  1. The old one about “If you have the facts on your side, pound the facts. If you have the law on your side, pound the law. If you have neither on your side, pound the table.” seems appropriate here. In China, just like anywhere else, people are likely just to interpret this kind of angry behaviour as a sign of how weak your position actually is.

  2. I think substituting “confrontation” for “anger” might work better.
    As probably everyone who reads this blog knows, Chinese are very fond of suggesting that foreign counterparts “must give me face”.
    A friend of mine, a very experienced (35 or so years) China hand, said to me once, “I usually reply, ‘What about MY face?’ Which tips them that you know all about face, and that it’s a two-way street, and that you’d like things to move forward equitably.”

  3. Wow Dan, this is the perfect photo to illustrate your point! The Chinese are able to control their emotions much better than we can because they live in a crowded, totalitarian country. But they feel deeply, and when anyone really crosses the line they remember and resolve to get even. And that is the hate gift that just keeps on giving. They can sabotage your production, steal from you, and even, for surprisingly little money, have you maimed or killed if you are enough of a problem to them. They watch all the Western, “Bullet to the Head,” genre films and dream about the day they do it to that hated Uncle in Law, or Grandfather who picked them up by the ear at age six. Just check the police files here and you will see how crazy that hot headed approach is.
    If you lose your temper easily why not simply go home and find some other type of work that you enjoy. The truth is, if you aren’t having fun you are doing it wrong, and this will really shorten your life here in China.

  4. Anger works in negotiating – once. After the negotiating session ends, the other party will avoid the screamer, and rightfully so. Loud anger has it’s place in negotiating, but it should be the very last technique in the box when all else fails and burning bridges is acceptable.

  5. I have found, in consumer situations dealing with both governmental and non-governmental institutions that refusing to take “no” as an answer, talking and gesturing as if one were angry, and insisting upon speaking with the person who says it “can’t be done” has worked three times at banks and twice with phone companies. It’s not a contract negotiation but it is a negotiation in an office. Talking loud attracts a crowd. And always asking for the person’s supervisor will, eventually [the employee’s supervisor’s supervisor’s supervisor] gets you someone who knows the answer that gets to “yes” or can [surprise surprise!] choose to not enforce the rule [and ask for a copy of the “rule”]. “Don’t take no.” Loud and crowd. Never really “get angry” but feign angry is working for me but it has been limited to “stupid rule” situations. cheers. An angry laowai in the bank isn’t a happy movie for whoever loses face over the situation. I actually lower my voice, slow pronunciation and step inside their social distance. Also, never take a seat if asked. Standing increases the pressure on the poor worker you are about to slightly “abuse.”

  6. I think anger in whatever culture is not at all an effective way to negotiate. If you do it in China, ensure you have a plan B. It might work to slam on the table with your fist, but eventually it’s all about options: does your Chinese counterpart have many other customers like you? Then you are going to lose. Are you having other options and you can afford to lose that supplier? Go ahead, and tell us what happened, out of curiosity.

  7. It does not work, and for obvious reasons, it will make you plenty of enemies inside your “partner”s organization who will work very determinedly to undermine whatever you think you achieved by throwing your weight around.

  8. It’s one thing to push a bureaucrat who’s far too enamored with his fortress of rules and regulations around with your grip of the macro situation, it’s quite another to lose it in an attempt to get your way in a negotiation. You’ve lost it to begin with, how can you gain anything sustainable?

  9. In the 50-odd years up until I came to China to operate a business I could have counted the number of times I lost my temper on one hand and have fingers to spare. Here extreme frustration seems to be an occupational hazard. In that context anger is understandable and it is also something that is occasionally works: like the time some idiot ran into my forklift and the police truck and crane came to take it away. I went to the station to explain that the machine was necessary and that taking it away and charging us to store it and to hire a machine would give the other party (who was driving a bashed up mini van) unfair negotiating power. The guy masquerading as an officer of the law was sitting at his desk looking at his mobile phone and showing his boredom with the whole saga while the idiot was upstairs talking to his mate, the officer in charge – figuring out how much they could screw me for probably.
    After listening to my staff politely explaining the situation and seeing that he was not listening I thumped the table to get the “officer’s” attention. He jumped up with a start. “What did you just do?” “This”, I said, thumping it again. “What”, he screamed. “This”, I as I repeated my offence for the second time. I now, for the first time, had his FULL attention. I listened to his rant about how to behave in China and apologised profusely, but I still had his attention. “Why don’t you just pay a deposit then”, he offered. “Okay, how much”, I asked. “3,000 Rmb”, he responded. And to myself “If you had just told me that in the first place, you fuckwit, we would not have had to go through all of this shit and waste half a day of my precious time”.
    This is the reality of China. I hate it, but this sort of shit happens all the time for the small people and there is no-one to run to, so we make our own arrangements. Call it a primitive and uncivilised if you like (it is ), but there are no prizes here for being nice. In China that say that only a fool is honest.
    It is total bullshit to say that the Chinese control their emotions – they do not. They get angry all the time. I have never seen so much agro in all my life as I have seen here over the last 8 years or so. I have seen dozens of fist fights, people pushing police officers, unmitigated screaming matches and everything in between. In the hallowed halls of academe this is obviously not the case, but on the mean streets of Cathay it is.

  10. Once, in Shenzhen, power went off in our building.
    Tried to call the management office, but their phones were busy, so walked down to talk. But the guy who was supposed to deal with us just kept answering the phone instead.
    So I unplugged it.
    He was angry and demanded I plug it back in. I told him I would after I got my answers, but if he tried to take it away from me and plug it back in I would break it.
    I got my answers, he got his phone.

  11. having lived in China for a long time, I’d recommend avoiding anger altogether. just strike it from your list of tactics. it always elicits the same predictable response: it embarrasses the other side, which causes “loss of face” — just a fancy word for a kind of public embarrassment or disgrace — which instantly makes the other person want to have nothing further to do with you. there’s a simple equation at work here: being snubbed publicly has much greater weight than almost any kind of business transaction in China, so when you choose to publicly put someone in their place you are effectively choosing not to do the business transaction.
    I’m not at all recommending conceding anything, FWIW. I’m just saying that an outburst is nothing more than the period at the end of your negotiations.

  12. Now this is a really interesting topic. I really like all the comments that people have put forward. In my view, anger, along with the full array of emotions have their place in negotiation provided it is proportionate to the issue at hand. Perhaps, in negotiation it may be more appropriate to use ‘controlled aggression’ rather than unbridled anger. I think stevelaudig was spot on with the “stupid rule” situations and angers role in such circumstances. I too have used anger to great effect to achieve a desired outcome in banking situations. That said, given the procedural nature of China and Chinese people, lateral thinking needs to be used in situations in addition to or instead of anger. I was in a situation with a Chinese bank, where the bank manager was being insistently difficult. He insisted that what I wanted was not possible because of the ‘process’. I then proposed an alternative to his view of the ‘process’. He explained while my proposal was technically possible it would require him to do twice the amount of paper work. Then it was just a matter of digging my heels and my turn to insist that it be done my way. My transaction was then completed on the spot. I think for more high level negotiations anger may serve less of a purpose and just cause you to lose face or embarrass yourself in the eyes of your counterpart. For anger to work it is ideal if you have a public audience. One of the reasons why foreigners get angry during negotiations with Chinese counterparts is because the Chinese party seldom has regard for cost/benefit analysis. They will happily draw out negotiations far longer than it makes sense to do so. Negotiations, need to be incredibly organised, using the Harvard method of negotiations or some other system. If your Chinese counterpart is frustrating you, you need to, where possible, have a plan B, C and D in term of finding appropriate partners/suppliers to do business. Having that sort of plan in place is probably far more effective than losing your cool!

  13. Heyhey, I see here Laowais talking the negotiation with Chinese business partners(I redeem that way). Let me join this topic as a local Chinese(maybe only one, LOL) live in Guangzhou.
    People are the same in every place in the world, Chinese or Laowai, so there is a thing called human nature. Which likes Happiness, Prosperity, Health, Good relationship, … and hate Fear, Poor, bad relationship …
    If I have to talk as a Chinese circumstance, I would say the Face(Mianzi). If you have a problem or met a bad business partner in China, OF COURSE, YOU DON’T SHOUT, he who only shout is your boss or your wife(when you did wrong things.) You need to consider their Face, their dignity or self-esteem. You are the buyer, the customer. CUSTOMER IS THE GOD, right? So you are in the advantage place(it means you have to be right, it’s your own fault if you made the mistake), tell directly the issue from your perspective and tone, but the meanings should be like IT’S YOUR(CHINESE) FAULT CAUSED THIS AND THAT, IF YOU DON’T GET FIXED, YOU DON’T GET PAID, OR YOU DON’T GET ME BACK. But don’t say easily SUE YOU or SHOUT IN THE FACE unless if you double checked the outcome of it. Because Chinese suppliers(I mean small companies, not like Fushikang(the Apple/iPhone manufacturer in CHina) are not afraid of the lawsuit, because you are a small company right? I am sure you are not a big company as Walmart(they have a system and very strict requirements of sourcing and purchasing, and series of loss protection. If it really comes to Lawsuit, it first will cost your time and money, and Second you may get failed, because of the evidences(or even your supplier diappeared), and Third you fortunately won the lawsuit, but it can not ensure you get the loss back.
    So what my suggestion is Work more on the Prevention, but not on a Solving the problem. Before you make the business cooperation with a chinese/or any, study well the company, and consider the unlucky possibities.
    If even so, the most unlikely problem happened, try to Solve it, not to Destroy by Shouting. Be reasonable. Like a old Chinese Coin, ROUND OUTSIDE AND SQURE INSIDE.

  14. screaming is an effective form of communication in China and the Chinese have always told me that’s the only way to get things done but here’s the caveat:
    screaming is only good for the Chinese to other Chinese, when a foreigner does it they are foolish and only “hurt the feelings of the Chinese people” : )

  15. As Go-to (China) market specialist, I negotiate quite often with Chinese buyers on behalf of my American clients, I use the following tactics: 1. I explain at the very early of the interaction the value proposition ( all of the products I work with are pricier than local products). 2. I emphasize that this is our offer with little room to go down and asked the potential buyers if high value is something they are looking for, 3. I often advise the American sellers to pad the offer a little bit, just make the Chinese seller feel better ( the Face thing, right) in the end.
    Please keep it in mind, China is a bargaining culture, they feel compelled to negotiate anything. When a Chinese seller makes an offer, it tends to has a large cushion. Chinese buyers are used to see 30-50% of discussion as a result of negotiation. It is very important for us to be clear at the beginning of the selling process.
    I have encountered Chinese buyers that do not negotiate or negotiate a discount rate after we work together ( when the sales volume is significant), that is fine with me, while other Chinese buyers ask for discount as they do not know your bottom of line. It does not mean they drop the deal when you stick to your offer.
    After all, please be ready to leave when the counter-offer is ridiculous.

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