china law

Are there any tactics for "Getting to Yes" in China?

Nothing is easy in China, but little is impossible. Many tasks that appear unattainable can in fact be achieved if you take the proper approach. Just about anything can be negotiated in the PRC, and there are a great many things that must be. Here are some tactics that have worked for others:

Find a win-win solution. A favorite Chinese way to overcome resistance is to identify or create a solution in which either everyone wins, or at least everyone saves face. A good example is a foreign company that ran afoul of one of the government organizations that regulated its activities in China-in this case, an organization responsible for testing the quality of its products. The testing organization regularly found fault with the company's product quality, and was often citing the foreign corporation for violations and finding it accordingly. The foreign company did not agree with the assessment and felt it was being victimized by an activist regulator that saw the company more as a deep pocket than anything else.

After several run-ins with the testing infrastructure, the company got smart. To "improve the accuracy of testing," it underwrote a donation of modern testing equipment -far more up to date than what the government had been using. And the problem went away. Whether it was because the new equipment gave a more accurate picture of product quality or because the recipient of a gift is less likely to bite the hand that feeds it is not clear, and in any case is not really the point. This company devised a win-win situation that solved not only its own problem, but that of its adversary.

Appeal to a higher authority: Another effective, but less preferable, method to get your way when you encounter resistance is to appeal to someone higher up in the chain of command, assuming you can gain access to such a person. If you are in store or at a ticket counter, you can ask to speak with the manger, and you may or may not be successful. The trick is to find someone who is willing to make a decision and to take responsibility for it.

Show the proper degree of respect: Nothing is more certain to fail in China than signaling to someone that you do not respect him or her or the job he or she holds. Treating someone like a low level functionary or petty bureaucrat is a tried -and- true recipe for being turned down, turned away, refused, ignored, or sabotaged. In this respect, China is no different from anyplace else, but people in China have a higher than average need for mianzi (face/respect).

Catch flies with honey, not vinegar: There is one school of thought that holds the best way to get what you want from a Chinese service person is to make yourself as obnoxious as you can so that the person is motivated to mollify you just to get you to go away. Over the years it is found that it can be far more successful to be friendly than to be nasty.

Ask the right questions: Sometimes getting something accomplished may merely be a matter of communicating more effectively. The person with whom you may be talking with may not fully understand the point you are making, but for reasons of face may be unwilling to admit that this is the case. Or the person may not fully appreciate why you are making a request, and may inadvertently withhold a key piece of information simply because he or she does not see it as relevant.

Try the indirect approach: Not only speaking in soft tones generally gets you a great deal further with the Chinese than shrill complaining; it is often a good idea to speak less directly than you might otherwise prefer, and to imply things rather state them outright. The Chinese frequently give only subtle signals as to their desires.

Offer a way out: One of the most important things to keep in mind is always to offer the person a way out. If you maneuver a person into a corner, you can absolutely count on strong resistance.

Do not lose patience: In the majority of cases, when you go up against the Chinese bureaucracy, time is not, or appears not to be, on your side. Urgency can be your worst enemy in trying to get something accomplished, because it can make you willing to pay more and settle for less. Be prepared to wait and go over familiar ground several times. Never lose your cool.

Be willing to take a risk: You may well want to do something that falls into a gray area as far as the law is concerned. Operating in a gray area carries all the obvious attendant risks. The Chinese may benefit from the lack of clarity, and a lot of money can be made at the margins. It is easier to ask for forgiveness in China than it is to ask permission.

Go through the back door: Knowing people in high places and motivating them to help you are important tools. Using guanxi to obtain personal favors, services, or goods for which you might not otherwise qualify has a special name in China: to do so is to zou houmen, or "go through the back door."