Chinese Negotiations

May 29, 2012 | By Sally Harrison, Chinese Law Summer Program student

When deciding to study abroad to learn about the Chinese legal system this summer, I did not really plan on my negotiating skills getting a big work out. Well I was wrong. We go to class during the day soaking in everything we can about the intricacies of the legal system in China, but the Socratic method is not widely used here, so we do not use many oral skills. However, our oral arguments and negotiating skills are put to the test at the famous Chinese silk markets.

Walking through the silk shops will do wonders for anyone’s self esteem. You are constantly showered with compliments. I heard “You so pretty lady” so many times, you would think that I had been at a high-end photo shoot.  With all these compliments, it is easy to forget that these seemingly sweet men and women are lulling you into a tricky astronomical price trap. I would like to think that I had learned some of my negotiating skills from my first year of law school, but in reality I think they were probably developed listening to my mother talk down venders in NYC’s China Town. I am far from a master bargainer, but I think I have some basics down.

The Smile and Laugh. No matter what vendor it is or what you are buying they will give you an opening bid that is so high it is laughable. So, my first savvy haggling technique is to take this first price as a joke, smiling and laughing at it. This lets them know you are “smart lady” and then the negotiating is on.

The Calculator Tango. Every vendor has a calculator with them at all times that they will whip out at you like a pistol-shooting cowboy, ready for you to make a counter offer. My “bargainomics” is to take the price they offer you and cut it down by 80 percent, because that is probably around what they paid wholesale for the item. Starting off with a low offer gives your pocket book a little room to breathe as the sprightly bartering continues.

Now it is important to remember that these vendors are clever and have been doing this for a long time, hence why they speak some of the best English in China, and they are excellent actors. When you give them your counter offer they will gasp, and maybe even grab their heart exclaiming, “You give me heart attack” or my favorite, “Come on, you killing me.” However, this is just a ploy attempting to make you feel guilty about your offer. There is no need to worry, because they are also “smart ladies” and will always make a profit off of you.

This calculator wrangle will go back and forth, with them lowering their price and you coming down or not. Vendors will pull out all the stops here. Beware that every item they have is the most popular brand, and you look better than anyone in it or with it. If they are not coming down as much as you would like the next step is essential to master.

The Walk Away. This is your time to put all the movies you watch into action using your best acting skills to really make the vendors believe you are out of there for good. Don’t look back or show even the slightest hint of remorse for leaving your precious goody behind. They are like sharks and will sniff this out. As you walk away you will hear the price drop down by every step you take, this is when you know you have them. Or in some instances they will even grab onto your arm and pull you back in until they finally can’t stand to let you go and grudgingly give in to your price. Be gracious and praise their merchandise, as it is a wondrous victory, where both sides share mutual respect for a bargaining battle well fought.

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