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Cultural Caveats: âDon't Believe the Hypeâ

Published: 23 Mar 2014 19:04:03 PST
UHF (1989)

Disappointment portrayed in the 1989 comedic film, UHF.

DISAPPOINTMENT. It’s a word that captures how we feel when results don’t meet expectations. You may have felt this way when you ordered a meal from a restaurant and it arrived looking much different and less appealing than its dazzling photograph depicted it in the menu. Maybe you felt it after buying a pre-owned car and found it was in dire need of expensive repairs not long after pulling out of the lot.

No matter the situation, most of us are no stranger to disappointment, and if you’ve ever done business in China you’ve probably learned to lower your expectations as is often wise to do. High expectations in China can lead to disappointment later down the pike because of reluctance to tell someone “no”, an inherent part of Chinese culture.

Dont believe the impossible

Be wary of outrageous claims.

Most people don’t enjoy saying “no” to someone’s request, but Westerners generally place greater value on candor and straightforwardness over appeasement when discussing business matters. That’s not to say that Westerners don’t naturally prefer to tell their clients the most ideal outcomes that will result from following their advices. But Chinese seem to have a less-developed concept of “under-promise, over-deliver”. In fact, in many cases, what ends up happening is “over-promise, under-deliver”.

China is a nation of people naturally averse to conflict and confrontation. Telling you that something is not possible, and the ensuing reaction it will provoke on your end, will make them feel uncomfortable. Their solution to avoiding this discomfort is simply to not tell you and to act and speak as if everything will work out just fine and in line with your requirements.

Face, or <em>miànzi</em>, is an important facet of Chinese culture.

Face, or miànzi, is an important facet of Chinese culture.

A factory may promise to have an order finished and shipped by the date requested for a customer in fear that if they say they need more time they could lose the business. Then, come shipping day, the customer might contact the factory to ask if the goods have shipped and be disappointed when they haven’t, or worse, the factory might compound the lie further and now the customer is unwittingly in a crisis situation. If the pricing seems too good to be true; if a production lead-time seems impossible; and if a deal seems totally unrealistic…it probably is.

So how do you, as someone conducting a transaction in China, protect yourself from being taken for a ride It would be prudent to offer an alternative that you know is attainable when you suspect something is too good to be true. In this way, you can give your Chinese partner a polite exit window to back out from any unrealistic promises, helping him to save “face”.

Conclusion

No business venture is without risk, and risk entails a certain degree of disappointment. If you’re doing business in China you may encounter an elevated risk of feeling disappointed. Don’t be over-enchanted by a person’s promises to give you exactly what you want when you want it. Prevent a crisis before it starts by using your best judgment and establishing expectations that are reasonable to both you AND your partner in China.

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