Most Western people have had little experience at negotiating, and this limited experience in negotiating is generally practiced when they bargain for a car, a house or maybe haggle at a market if they go on holidays to Asia. Therefore for many Western business people the whole practice of negotiating can be daunting. On the other hand, for most Chinese people, negotiating is a normal practice of everyday life. Anyone who has visited China will see Chinese cities, towns, and apartment block communities packed with all kinds of markets where there are always deals going on. They may be simply bargaining for the price of vegetables and other essential daily items or something as large as a business or property. Consequently Chinese people learn to negotiate from a very young age, and continue this practice throughout their lives in their daily interactions. A well-known saying in China is “everything is negotiable”.
People often ask me “Leonie what is the key to understanding how Chinese people communicate and negotiate?” My answer to this is that a crucial part of understanding Chinese negotiation tactics is to have some knowledge of the 36 Chinese Strategies, which are derived from “The Art of War”. Chinese culture encapsulates the practice of negotiation in the 36 Chinese Strategies.
The 36 Chinese Strategies have been described as “gems” that speak to the core of Chinese society. Most Chinese people know and unconsciously use these strategies to negotiate. They are widely understood and applied in the contemporary business world. A way of thinking about the 36 Chinese Strategies is similar to understanding idioms such as “Don’t cry over spilt milk”. Just like these Western idioms the 36 Chinese Strategies are learnt through families, friends and to a lesser degree at school. Chinese people are generally confident at negotiating, and a key reason for this is because they live in an environment where idioms in everyday conversation focus on negotiating.
Examples of some of the 36 Chinese Strategies are: Fool the emperor to cross the sea, Loot a burning house, Make a noise in the east and attack in the west. When Chinese business people negotiate they bring this wealth of knowledge, and it is this experience and knowledge that makes them formidable negotiating opponents.