When ‘yes’ is ‘yes’ in China

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When ‘yes’ is ‘yes’ in China

Ever noticed how everyone in Asia is more than willing with a “yes” in reply to any enquiry but don’t necessarily come up with the goods? It’s not just you and, no, it’s not personal.

It’s simply a positively geared cultural disposition to encouragement. The same is true in China, so read on to find out when a yes actually means yes – rather than no.

To avoid frustration and keep yourself on an even keel, a useful asset when doing business in China is to expect a positive reply to everything. If you show a factory a sample and ask whether it can be made, you’ll invariably receive an enthusiastically positive response but later, perhaps, be let down when receiving something not in the least like the sample you produced.

In such situations, some people become irate, others hateful and others almost hysterical. These are classic symptoms of the chronically misunderstood and badly behaving Western trader. However, these symptoms are delusional and we recommend taking a deep breath and pondering why the factory representative may have given you a “misleading” reply.

Face up to the face thing

In Chinese culture, it is seen as unhelpful and hopelessly final to say no. If you say no, that’s it: the door is closed on any potential opportunity. A Chinese businessperson may also feel that a negative response will cause a loss of face for both parties. Face is not some weird Oriental notion of pride; it is rather a sophisticated form of etiquette which affords mutual respect. “No” is losing face and “yes” is saving face.

The default response for a Chinese businessperson, therefore, is “yes”. As a Westerner doing business in China, you need to totally own the concept of face. As they say in Chinese 入境随俗 or When in Rome, act as the Romans do.

Proof is in the pudding

Now that you have a handle on the entrepreneurial positivity inherent in a Chinese “yes”, you’ll discover that the can-do attitude we think of as our own is actually a shared way of thinking. The “yes” you have is essentially a sign of willingness to work toward common goals – in this case, your product. The “yes” you want is the finished product as conceived by you – and you’ll need proof of that.

Getting a sample right with a factory is a process of trial and error. Don’t expect it to happen across cultural and language barriers in the twinkling of an eye – it won’t.

It’s important at each iteration of a sample that you document, photograph and discuss what you want at the next stage. Make sure you are all working from the same page by clearly numbering the samples and any corrective steps associated with them. Take the time to communicate this clearly as it will save time by avoiding later mistakes.

Wrap it up

The “yes” that you really want is the perfect product. When you have that product in your hands and have seen some manufactured samples come off a preliminary production line all packed and pretty, that is when “yes” finally means “yes” in China.

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