We’ve all been there – deep in thought, someone is talking to you, you just keep saying yes and nodding your head while not even listening. I think that’s how I ended up with a timeshare in Alaska with my fiancé. How did I get here? Well, in China, it’s not a matter of you not being alert, it’s a matter of culture. Chinese are so excited about Western business, but they don’t understand everything you are saying (especially slang) and yes is a great answer. Chinese culture is based on “saving face” – the idea that you have a persona of good, positive and always being able to deliver. You don’t berate people, embarrass or put them in bad situations in front of others.
“Yes” seems to be the answer that is genetically programmed in humans to say in stressful, confusing situations – sort of the equivalent of guessing “C” on multiple choice questions. I’ve seen it so many times. I know the factory is a plastic injection facility, I ask about forging, “Yes”, aluminum casting “Yes”, have you ever been to the moon, “Yes”. That’s always my fall back question to see if they understand. Of course they are in front of their staff and don’t want to say they can’t do something. In addition, they want to find a way to do it for you to make more money. While you may be asking “do you do forging here?” – they are hearing “can you find someone to do forging at another facility and you take care of it?”.
So how do you solve this? It’s a case by case situation, but a few simple tips can help. Speak and communicate in simple words, avoid slang and have them repeat back to you and expand on it. If you understand what they are saying, you’re on the right path. If you need to ask tough questions, put them on the spot, take the head person out the room in private and discuss. This gives them the opportunity to understand and not be put in front of staff saying NO.
Real World Example: Client was having issues with production. They just weren’t paying attention to the details, putting wrong parts in wrong places. So bad that the client had to go to China to meet with them, retrain. Spent 1 week in the factory showing them how to correctly do it, what parts go where and how. Factory owner kept nodding head, saying yes. Can you do this right? Yes. Will you do this right from now on? Yes. Is it clear? Yes. Client got home and next shipment was same as usual, wrong, wrong, wrong. We went in to investigate. Turns out the factory owner speaks very broken English and did not understand client’s accent and slang. He was so nervous about trying to understand that he did not even grasp the whole message. He was so focused on appearing like he is professional and they are a good factory. It got worse when the client showed up frustrated and spoke more aggressively, faster, etc. In the end, a little QC and translation in the right language fixed the problem.
Summary: Don’t settle for yes. Have them expand, demonstrate and prove they understand.
Posted by Joel Buckley
Specialized in product development, sourcing, marketing and branding