To organize working meetings with Chinese people and conclude that some progressess were made or even that some results have been accomplished, often is a real challenge. A fortiori, the challenge is even bigger when these meetings are conducted with some Chinese who are not part of your company but who are therefore either your clients or your suppliers, as you are never able to totally control the reliability of the exchanged informations. Who has never been surprised by the weird rythm of those meetings ? Who has never been disturbed by the lack of organization of the other party during these working meetings ? Who has never come out of a meeting with Chinese people by wondering whether all had been understood and whether all will be taken into account and applied afterwards ?
In China, concepts of time management and information management have not been established yet for good in the mentalities, and first level performances that are supposed to result from them are still far behind our European standards. That’s the reason why it is essential to well prepare in advance your working meetings with the Chinese, and also to get psychologically prepared to the idea that you’ll have to take the whole discussion under control. Although you prepare well, however there will always be quite some cultural and commercial obstacles coming from the Chinese guys side, to whom you’ll try to only concede the strict and necessary minimum, when possible.
The three important points that make a working meeting in China efficient are, first of all, the choice of participants, then the way to proceed to the meeting, and finally the follow-up process after the meeting.
The Chinese Participants to the Meeting
Chinese people always delegate the sole participation to their meetins to the person you are generally speaking in contact with. If that happen (as in most cases) that this person ‘s position in the company is at commercial level but not at a managerial level, your progresses and results will probably be very limited. Indeed, in China tasks and responsibilities are extremely sub-divided, and simple sales people, although they are required to fully handle the client relationship but they have no power of decision for anything whatsoever. On the other hand, your sales contact person certainly have a honorable commercial background, however his technical skills may be limited in regards to the products you’d like to purchase from his company. In that case, you will – for sure – loose patience every time one important point is to be discussed your supplier’s sales person will have to give a call out to someone who has the answer but does not participate to this meeting, or will have to go out of the meeting room to search for someone who is available to go and run after the other person who has the answer you need…
Therefore, it is highly recommended to arrange in advance that the minimum participants to your meeting on the supplier ‘s side include the sales person whom you’re in touch with, a technician who understands well the products, and another person who is authorized for decisions in regards to prices, delays or any other important information that justifies a face-to-face meeting. According to the size of the company that you will meet with, this person will be either the company ‘s Director or the commercial department manager. It is preferable to plan the attendancy of these people in advance, otherwise they might not necessarily be available (or on site) during your visit. The same scheme must be applied when you are the one receiving Chinese people in your office. Even if that seems very obvious to you, note that the Chinese are not used to including in their meetings people who are not working in commercial department, as they consider that each person has a position and this position must be respected (especially for technical people). So a few days before going there, give your supplier a call and explain what you need : you wish that the meeting will be efficient and you’re sure it will be if all the required persons attend to it, because you’ll be by then able to make clear decisions that will be confirmed by the managers on the spot (because they attend to the meeting of course). It happens too often in Chine that a meeting unfortunately has for sole result to get everyone to agreeing on the date of the next meeting… So, think ahead and save a full day of vain efforts !
Content & Process of a Meeting
After the ritual introductions and the local protocol that you may have to go through in case all participants are not know from a previous meeting (see article in Focus Terrain : Protocol when visiting a Chinese Supplier), the meeting can start. You begin by announcing the topics that you are going to discuss and eventually provide all participants with a list of these topics. But next it is strictly essential that you never mix several topics together, you must discuss one point after the other ! The only moment when you are “allowed” to combine several topics is during a difficult negotiation, as you will have to take into account various factors in order to reach your goal. This case apart, keep a straight line and discuss all matters one after the other. The Chinese who are not conducted on this straight line will take all possible curves and finally get lost and get you lost on an annex path that looks from far as a short-cut or as the right direction, just because their thoughts are not well enough organized. Keep listening but change direction only when you realize that you have yourself forgotten an important parameter that the Chinese participants would have noticed.
You must clearly define and make an exposé of your objectives. Do not hesitate to speak with lots of details about your current situation, mention the issues you have encountered in the past with your suppliers, and conclude with what you expect for this time in terms of solutions to come up with and results to be achieved. Make sure everybody understands what you say and agree on following you and work together on reaching your objectives. The concept of consensual decision is extremely important in China, without it you will never obtain a long-term commitment from your Chinese partners. This is the reason why you must frequently ask questions in order to verify that everybody sincerely agrees with the important points of the dicussion.
Finally, write down every detail that has been discussed and that presents a special (or less special) importance. The Chinese tradition wants that every discussion, confirmation, modification etc. Only has an oral trace in people ‘s memory. However, it happens too frequently that conflicts emerge from this lack of written prooves. So write down everything and eventually exchange with your supplier copies of your notes at the end of the meeting. Sum-up together the decisions made and orally validate one more timethat all is understood and that your objectives are reachable – and that everything will be done so that they are reached.
A meeting with Chinese people must always mention the great necessity of anticipation of all actions and issues to be foreseen (and of the solutions that go together), of the permanent need of efficient communication between both parties, and of the obligation of an information that has to be clear, precise, thought through and anlayzed. Put an end to the meeting by friendly words if the context allows it, but generally speaking you may have to find a way that it ends up this way.
After the Meeting, How to Follow-Up
After your meeting, you’re not done yet. Write down the « minutes » of your meeting and send a copy to your Chinese supplier so that he signs this report. Most of the times, he will ignore your request, but it’s not such a big deal as long as you have a trace by fax or by email that the document has been sent out and received.
This document shall include the important points of your meeting, as well as an action plan that you have decided to put in place together, as well as the road map you shall follow together in order to lead to a good end all the planned actions.
It is of your sole duty to take the initiative of the first step or of the first action, as the Chinese guys will very rarely do it even though the working plan clearly establishes he should. Your role is to motivate the Chinese guy and his/her team as if they were part of your company (or almost). But your major role is to check on the good progress of your project, without counting on the fact that the Chinese side detains the same document as yours, and without assuming that he will follow it at all. You must accompany your supplier in his progress. At least to get the insurance that his progresses are made and made on the right direction…
Sophie Rebibo – Consultante Objectif Chine – email@example.com
Vous partez bientôt en Chine, un projet d’implantation, une négociation à mener, n’hésitez pas à contacter Sophie Rebibo : +86 135 277 07 199
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