Reliable de-escalation strategies

In China, discrepancies are kept under wraps for a long time before they evolve into open conflicts. Yet negative consequences for your enterprise can even be averted in muddled situations: Four hints, from the right conversation techniques to the “China Joker”.

1. Ventilation – let the pent-up resentments among all involved break open

All parties involved in joint ventures rely on functional communication. Delicate issues in intra-European teamwork often represent large-scale problems in cooperation between different cultural environments. In order to better understand Chinese partners, you should be aware that the Chinese tend not to openly address conflicts, but rather to keep track of them. In so doing, discrepancies may accumulate, which their European partners are not even aware of or which they do not deem noteworthy.

Once a conflict comes to the surface – proverbially, the last straw that breaks the camel’s back – open words provide assistance: Get your staff together und prompt brutal honesty. Confidence can only be restored once all reproaches are ventilated. In China, this can be accomplished very well by arranging a dinner party and some drinks.

2. Identify the most constructive person among the conflicting parties

Let us assume that while negotiating with your Chinese partners, you encounter a wall that renders any compromise impossible. You cannot determine the problem precisely and communication has broken down.

This is the time to act sensitively and to seek talks with the person who can really explain the problem on hand. That need not be the boss. Take a look at who appears competent and solution-oriented. Suggest interrupting the negotiations for a break and take the individual aside for a personal conversation. Face your partner in an honestly interested way. Speaking Chinese will create confidence and lead you to the core of the problem.

3. Present the prospect of consequences, but in a China-compliant format

Another example: You are waiting for a payment from your partner – and you have been doing so for far too long. It is quite common practice in China to transfer payments behind schedule, which may imply substantial strain for a company.

If you are forced to remind your partner of agreements, be mindful of two things: the bearer of the message and the message itself. Use the person who has the best relationship with the key person in charge on the opposite side, even though another employee may seem more suitable in terms of content. In China, personal relationships pave the way to success (???). The message itself, such as a payment request, should be formulated in a friendly and benevolent fashion. However, let your partner know that you must take appropriate action should default continue.

4. If nothing else helps, highest-level interventions are necessary

Let us assume your business connection has suddenly drifted into a serious crisis, your partner discontinues cooperation, and the escalation can no longer be cushioned. You are faced with life-threatening scenarios and forced to act rapidly.

Severe conflicts require the presence of the uppermost leadership. Your Chinese partner will appreciate the boss coming over from Europe and attending to the problem personally – as a China Joker. Exercising humility and admitting one’s own mistakes have a virtually soothing effect. Compared to the financial damage to your company potentially arising with an escalation, such an emergency intervention is a quite simple and economical measure.