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
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.