Masks for losing face

The Chinese are much less direct in their communication than Westerners. Indirect signals, avoiding confrontations; to Western entrepreneurs the experience is comparable continuously walking on eggshells. 

Situations such as price negotiations, an evaluation talk or the discussion of a problem with a Chinese partner seem like an impossible task. In the West we are used to freely expressing our opinion or giving our own interpretation of things. In China, however, it is customary to refer to existing rules or external factors.  

Referring to external factors and thus indicating that it is not your personal opinion, provides the Chinese party with an opportunity to retreat. “Our apologies, but we are bound to a maximum price.” “Accounting has charged me to only sign contracts when condition X is met.” “As a result of new company policies we are only allowed to act so and so.” 

Taking a personal position and not being able to yield will most likely be considered an insult. 

Contrarily, Westerners often consider the reference to an external factor to be bureaucratic or they come to the conclusion that they have entered into discussions with the wrong person. While, at the same time, the Chinese party is confident they are sending out a clear message!