I was asked to take a group of real estate agents from Mainland China on a tour of the US to meet American and Canadian agents so that they could network and perhaps some deals would happen. The tour went well and we had a huge delegation of Chinese agents. Single agents at small companies as well as top management of huge Chinese public companies.
When the agents arrived I met them and took them to an NAR convention in Orlando. Picture this: These agents from China had travelled half way around the world to meet other agents and the agents in Orlando had travelled from across the US and Canada, but when they arrived at the convention hall, nothing happened. I shouldn’t say nothing because the leaders of the convention greeted the group, shook hands and everyone smiled. But that was it.
After 10 minutes, all the Chinese were alone talking to each other and the American and Canadian agents busily went on their way to the next event hall at the convention. It went on like this for the first day until I finally cornered a group of the non-Chinese agents and asked, “what’s up?” Why aren’t you mixing with the Chinese? Don’t you want to cooperate. The agents were taken aback. “Of course we want to do deals. But”….. “but what, I asked.” We don’t know what to say…
It turns out that they were afraid that the language barrier was too great and the culture barrier too high. They had tried to communicate but no one understood their jokes and they found it difficult to communicate and (I dragged it out of them) They felt uncomfortable. They felt like they were not wanted in the group.
So I went to the Chinese group and asked them what was happening from their perspective. They said that at the dinner the first evening, no one had sat on their table so they felt like no one wanted to get to know them. So… I went back to the American and Canadian group and asked them why they didn’t join the Chinese table. And…. it was because they ordered many strange Chinese dishes that they weren’t familiar with!
So two groups that were spending gobs of money to meet each other couldn’t meet for the most mundane of reasons. Food, fear of not being able to communicate, nervousness. So I took the non-Chinese by the hand and led them over to the group. I explained that they don’t need to talk. Just stand there and enjoy the vibe and see if anything happens.
THE ICE STARTS TO THAW
Sure enough, after 5 minutes of that, one of the Chinese realtor delegation asked a local Florida agent where they were from. And they started talking. And then another agent asked the leader of the Chinese group about table manners and seating arrangements. (ok I admit I told them to ask that) And the Chinese leader, VP of a large company launched into a long explanation of where everyone should sit at a Chinese table.
I recommended that we go to dinner early so he could show everyone and explain how things are decided in China. Hint, if you go to a Chinese dinner. wait to sit down. And wait. Even if you’re asked to sit. Quietly ask whoever you think the leader of the group is where you should sit. The usual answer is “Anywhere you like!” But if you push just a little further, “what if I were Chinese, were would I sit?” And then he points to a specific chair, you sit down, and the whole table converges. In fact, everyone except you knew where you were supposed to sit.
Simply knowing that it’s not arbitrary and that there is a specific chair for your and a reason for that chair is a good start. Even if you have no idea where that is. Just knowing that there is a place is all you have to know. And to be patient to find out where. By asking why everyone else is sitting where they are sitting will give you an excellent idea of who is who.
So you don’t have to know it all. You just need to know to ask and to be patient. Once you fully understand the hierarchy of Chinese society and how it functions, the seating arrangements will make perfect sense and you, if you’re like me, will start wondering why American’s sit so randomly. lol The Chinese way actually makes a lot of sense for a business dinner.
PARTY IN FULL SWING
So back to our dinner. After some baijiu (Chinese white liquor/whiskey) the dinner was off to a rollicking start. Everyone talked to everyone and exchanged business cards, added each other on WeChat and wave after wave of selfies went around the room. Friends were made, plans hatched and deals begun.
So the moral of the story is: If you’re dealing with Chinese groups, they know what to do. Show that that you’re open. Be comfortable if they are all speaking Chinese. Wait, listen, observe. I speak Chinese now but before I did, I would spend my time trying to figure out the dynamics of this particular group. Who was the leader? Who is the key person to connect with? How can I open a comfortable conversation without interrupting? If you have things like that on your mind, you won’t be so uncomfortable waiting. And the group will also realize you are an open minded, intelligent individual and you will be welcomed. After all, you didn’t push your way in. You slid in naturally. You fit in. That’s a great start.
I think so many meeting of Chinese and non-Chinese are wasted because of the simplest of misunderstandings and fears. Above is a video I made years ago about the value of small talk. Please ask questions below and comment. I’m thinking of making a series of Small Talk in China videos.
Thanks for reading and if you want to know more about working with Chinese real estate agents, finding Chinese business partners or investment from China, check out my full course where I take you by the hand and teach you exactly what you individually need to do to market your properties in to Chinese buyers. How you can not only create great relationships but also how to use effective tools like Baidu advertising, to find and close deals with luxury property buyers from China.