Our Chinese partners changed their minds! We agreed everything in a formal meeting, but our counterparts in China changed their mind when we sent the formal written agreement a week later. is this normal?

Sometimes your Chinese counterparts might be eager to please you and as a result they may be reluctant to say ‘no’ to you in a meeting. They may feel that directly contradicting you will be embarrassing for everyone. Often, Chinese people in business relationships avoid saying ‘no’ directly by appearing to agree, but also saying that ‘we ought to discuss it further next time’.

Unfortunately this can often lead to misunderstandings for intercultural business partnerships, as non-Chinese partners easily mistake such responses for agreement to proceed, when the Chinese party really means, ‘I am not sure’, ‘I need more time to think about it’, or even ‘no!’ The disagreement only comes to light when you are ready to move forward with your project. Your Chinese partners appear to have changed their minds, but as far as they are concerned the issue was never decided on in the first place.

The best way to avoid this kind of problem is to anticipate it. You may be tempted to put pressure on your partners to agree to your requests, or to present strong logical arguments in favour of your plan. However, this approach makes it more difficult for your counterparts to express their reservations. There may be agreement in discussions, but when the time comes to act, you will find: ‘our Chinese partners changed their minds!’

Instead, it is important to give a lot of space and some time to encourage your Chinese partners to disagree with you. This will help them to express their concerns to you, which means you will have a greater chance of resolving them at the early stage, and a greater chance of success in your China business venture.