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Negotiations in the Year of the Horse

So there we are, the 4711th Chinese year has started! What to expect from this

Year of the Wooden Horse?

In China the horse is one of the most auspicious and favorite animal signs, due to

its importance in ancient times being the means of quick transport and playing a

vital role in winning battles. Nowadays it s cons

idered to be a symbol of vigour,

speed, competition and victory. No wonder in China the horse is the symbol for

speedy success.

When reading several fortune calendars it seems that 2014 is going to be a

dynamic and competitive year where things – good or bad – will come quickly.

Business people have to move forward confidently in the direction of their goals,

just as the horse gallops at top speed toward its destination.

How to be well equipped for conducting successful negotiations this year? How

to deal with your Chinese (Asian) counterparts in this rapid changing

environment? My recommendations would be to improve your competitive edge

by focusing on the following three horse characteristics: intelligence, power and


Intelligence: Reverse Analysis

Although it may seem an obvious statement, the key for successful negotiations

is a good preparation. One of the things that strike me when conducting

negotiations training programs is that many business people - even in highly

professional business environments – hardly prepare for negotiations. They

make an overview of last year’s volumes, prices and issues and targets for this

year and off they go. Defining your negotiations strategy - based on a thorough

analysis of your requirements and the market - including negotiations objectives

and scenarios, second best alternatives and team roles would be the least to do.

Often omitted in these preparations - and in my view essential - is the

negotiating partner’s perspective. How important are you for this supplier or

customer; what is your and your competitor’s position in their portfolio, what

will be most probably their negotiation approach? My experience is that such a

‘reverse analysis’ provides surprising insights and increases your chances to be


Power: The Art of War

To further enhance your power, be aware of your opponent’s “weapons” in the

business area. In that respect “The Art of War” is a good read. Written 2500

years ago by Sun Tzu, an important Chinese military strategist, it is probably the

most widely read work on military strategy and for business purposes till today.

Most Chinese have been raised and educated with it as well as with the “36

Stratagems” (ancient essay by unknown authors). The latter, easy and fun to

read, includes 36 negotiations tactics with intriguing titles such as “lure the tiger

to leave the mountain.” Chinese-Asians like to host the negotiation in order that

they control the program and timing, creating a disadvantage for foreign

negotiators that are not in their natural environment and may be pressed by

deadlines or travel schemes. During the negotiations process it is common to

”Give away a brick to earn a piece of jade” or to use “the honey trap”. Well, have a

look yourself (I am happy to send you the overview) and I am sure it will feed

you with tactics you never thought of before.

Versatility: The Power of Silence

Last but not least, be versatile when it comes to your communication style in

negotiations. Just as a horse, capable of changing between walking, trotting,

cantering and galloping.

According to the Chinese “only the devil walks in a straight line”. Their indirect

way of saying things is founded in their belief that this is the virtuous way to

maintain harmony and ‘face’. To understand the message you must read between

the lines, interpret the body language and “listen” to what is not being said.

Although in general it is most natural to Western people to be quite direct and

explicit, it will pay off if you are able to switch to a more indirect style and to use

the power of silence. Do not fill in the silence of your counterpart – risking to

give away too much too quickly – and use silence yourself. Just try it; it is one of

the most powerful tools in negotiations.

Good luck with your negotiations in 2014, have fun galloping towards your

destination! And if you are interested in a consult or training to improve your

negotiations skills, feel free to get in touch.

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