Corporate Diplomacy: Negotiations Between China and the West

An introduction to the Harvard method of principled negotiation where we learn to create value at the bargaining table by focusing on interests and needs rather than positions. This workshop then introduces the "world view" of the Chinese negotiator and explains how it differs from the Western approach to bargaining.


Workshop Schedule and Learning Outcomes



High Context v. Low Context Negotiation Styles - How the Chinese approach to negotiation differs from the Western approach: These styles are analyzed  in terms of process; information exchange; means of persuasion; terms of agreement.  Viewed in the context of these two paradigms, it is easier to understand what our common interest are, if we are able to identify and overcome the barriers of our cultural difference.

Why the Chinese are different from us? Brief overview of the historical & cultural drivers of the Chinese Negotiator. It will explore the different ethical approaches that Chinese and Western negotiators bring to the table.

Harvard Law School Simulation: Oil Pricing:  Learn to define what constitutes a “good outcome” in a negotiation over a vital commodity which drives our economy and the consequences that has in this simulation of trading crude oil. Is it “to win”, “to beat the other side", “to avoid losing” “to protect your reputation”, etc?




Simulation: The HBT Merger by Larissa Tiedens & Sheila Melvin of Stanford Graduate School of Business (Harvard Business School Case Study Program) - Scenario: Haley-Burroughs is a USA-based diversified technology company that is a global leader in computer hardware, software and services. Its revenues for the last four quarters were close to $50 billion. Faced with increasing strong competition, a weak global economy, and a correspondingly challenging market, it decided to acquire China-based TriFec, a $40 billion company and top producer of personal computers. The acquisition was completed six weeks ago and the new company – HBT – officially launched. Planning for the merger was long and rigorous. Big tech mergers such as this do not have an encouraging track record, as the vast majority fail to meet their goals. If this merger is to succeed, it is absolutely critical that the post-launch consolidation process be fast, efficient and thorough. Six week into the new company, both sides have missed their initial deadlines. The four negotiators (2 US and 2 Chinese) must reset post-merger expectations, address the different underlining interests and get the merger plan back on track. They have the opportunity to demonstrate active listening, inquiry, and feedback regarding post-merger expectations at HBT headquarters in the USA and at HBT Shanghai. The negotiation takes place in Shanghai. They are due to report back to HBT CEO Chris Carson next week.

Debrief: Sharing cultural and negotiation experiences

Harvard Kennedy School Simulation: Universal Aircraft: This is a negotiation between the Vice-President of the US-based Universal Aircraft Company, the largest commercial and military aircraft manufacturer in the world, and a senior government representative of Karthik, an oil-rich developing country in Central Asia. The high-value negotiation involves the sale of the G-232 aircraft, spare parts, advanced electronics and on-going maintenance. Karthik recently concluded a deal with Universal Aircraft’s arch-rival, Eurostar.

Group discussion - Sharing experiences. What common negotiation tactics did you encounter such as extreme demands, escalating demands, lock-in tactics, take-it-or leave-it, phoney facts, dubious intentions, personal attacks, and threats? How did you handle them? How cultural differences affect negotiation styles and tactics.



Harvard Law School Simulation: Canada-China Panda Acquisition  - Scenario: In 2010, after years of communication with the Chinese Association of Zoological Gardens (CAZG) concerning a loan of giant pandas, Toronto Zoo officials see a “ripe moment” to intensify their efforts and undertake formal negotiations. They designate a Chinese-Canadian spokesman and discuss partnering with Calgary Zoo. The Canadians face serious challenges, however. Giant pandas are an endangered species native only to one country: China. Moreover as “star attractions,” they are in demand by zoos all over the world. Political and economic factors within and between the two countries complicate the situation.

Debrief: Sharing cultural and negotiation experiences.



Simulation: Negotiation in China - How Universal? By Zhigang Tao & Shang-Jin Wei of the University of Hong Kong & Columbia Business School (Harvard Business School Case Study Program) -  Scenario: Universal Studios, a major US theme parks and resorts company, would like to negotiate with Chinese Central Government for building its first theme park in the country. The six negotiators & two observers (4 US and 4 Chinese) will discuss the new theme park’s location, ownership structure, size, nature of theme zones, local employment and hospitality training programs. The negotiation takes place in Beijing.

Participants who played the role of Chinese negotiators in the morning session will play the role of US negotiators in the afternoon session and vice-versa.

Debrief: Sharing cultural and negotiation experiences


“I found the workshop very interesting with a good variety of challenging cases of the kind that both Chinese and foreign negotiators would have to contend with. The entire workshop provided valuable inter-cultural insights and ways of addressing different cultural perspectives in ways best calculated to secure mutually acceptable outcomes. The skills acquired on the course are also transferable to other academic disciplines.” - Lik Suen, Executive Director, London Confucius Institute SOAS; Principal Lector in Chinese, SOAS University of London

“The workshop gave me the opportunity to explore different negotiation styles in hypothetical cultural settings. The trainers were highly engaging and knowledgeable about East-West cultural differences and were very successful in creating an environment for lively debate and discussion amongst the participants. ” - Si Xuan Cai, Senior Associate Solicitor, Norton Rose Fulbright LLP, London 

“It was a pleasure to participate in the workshop. It reinforced all of the knowledge gained through years of experience in dealing with China and helped me to refocus on key cultural aspects of negotiating in a Chinese environment. It would also be a great introduction to those just starting out in professions in which they will need to deal with China in social and or business situations. The workshop provided some great opportunities to practice negotiating skills through the interesting and entertaining case studies and simulations.” - Scott Chorna, Business Development Director for China, IMO Car Wash Group Ltd. (UK)

“The well-prepared lectures helped me to have a systematic understanding of negotiations. The role-plays gave me opportunities to experience and practice a variety of negotiation skills. Through these simulations, I understand and appreciate that there are some differences at the bargaining table between Chinese and Westerners due to the differences in the tradition, culture and other aspects. This understanding will help us to achieve satisfactory outcomes in our future intercultural negotiations.”  -  Dr. Yang Bingmei, Department Director, Beyond Laboratory UK Limited.  

“The lively discussions and well-organized role-plays gave me the opportunity to practice different negotiation tactics with my fellow Chinese as well as Western participants in the course and helped me understand and appreciate different perspectives from our two cultures, which is extremely valuable and can lead to satisfactory outcomes for all sides." - Miller Guo, Chief Executive Officer, GF International Asset Management (UK) Co. Ltd.

“The multi-cultural workshop gave me a good opportunity to practice real negotiation techniques and learn in a safe classroom setting. In my current job, I have been negotiating with Westerners for six years and I finally had a chance to reflect and analyze my strengths, weaknesses and improve upon them." - Denan Li, Private Wealth Manager at UBS in Zurich, Chairman of the Association of Chinese Financial Professional in the UK

“The laboratory format of the course, supported by an interesting array of case studies and role plays, allows one to experiment with negotiation styles and techniques in a safe environment. Facilitating lively debate and insight into both Chinese and Western negotiation styles, there were a number of “that explains it” moments in the workshop.” - Clive Evans, International Business Director,Hydro International (UK)

 “This is a dynamic course led with gusto and authority by Samuel Passow and his team. The case studies and simulations resulted in moments of genuine insight into negotiation techniques. The ongoing peer-appraisal process was particularly useful as it allowed participants to gauge their performance during the workshop and therefore work on weaknesses as they emerged.” -Jack Chubb, Manager, Torchlight Group Ltd. (UK)