Negotiation Styles: Chinese vs American

Cross-Cultural Comparative Analysis of Chinese and American Negotiation Styles

Due to cultural differences, negotiations in the global arena are fraught with pitfalls. In this article, we examine the characteristics prevalent in the negotiation styles of Americans (USA) and Chinese (China).

Although some argue that it is as difficult to identify the American negotiation style, several characteristics have been mentioned in different studies. Americans are frequently associated with arrogance; however, this quality may not be a strictly American characteristic, simply often associated with them due to their unique status as the ‘global hegemon’. They are often viewed as ‘risk-takers’ due to their willingness to make decisions on their own. They are also known to be impatient, which stems from the American tendency to get straight to the point and go for the goal. They focus on the contract and usually find anything outside the boundaries of the contract superfluous.

China has a long and rich history that has shaped the minds, values, and beliefs of its people. Face, which refers to a person’s reputation, is a crucial factor in Chinese negotiating style. The importance of guan-xi is founded on the collectivist feature of Chinese culture, where the welfare of the group is valued higher than the welfare of the individual. Further, hierarchy is strictly followed. Moreover, the Chinese think in terms of the whole, so will address all issues in the negotiation simultaneously with no apparent order, and seemingly not resolving anything. All this consumes a tremendous amount of time to conclude negotiations with the Chinese. Finally, after signing the contract, the Chinese will demand more than is stated in the contract.

Conflicts and misunderstandings arise due to conflicting significance placed on relationship building, and the manner in which information is exchanged. Further, a failure to understand the decision-making mechanism leads to unnecessary tension and frustration. Finally, failure to recognize the nature of the relationship forged from successful negotiations to deal with the post-agreement demands will cause tension amongst the parties.

Despite the many cultural differences between China and the USA, successful cross-cultural negotiations is possible by adhering to three key points. 
  • Building personal relationships, particularly in China. 
  • Being patient, therefore, understanding of the decision-making process and hierarchical interpersonal system of China. 
  • Being conscious of face, which oftentimes simply means being aware that more is being communicated than what is uttered, and being mindful of how the message is delivered to the other party.
You are welcome to read the full 15-page paper: Comparative Analysis of Negotiation Styles Practiced in the USA and China (PDF)


Blackman, C. 1997, Negotiating China: Case studies and strategies, Allen & Unwin.

Chen, G.B. 1996, Negotiating With The Chinese, Dartmouth Publishing Company.

Deresky, H. 2006, International Management: Managing Across Borders and Cultures, 5th ed., Pearson Prentice Hall.

Druckman, D. 1996, ‘Is there a U.S. negotiating style’, International Negotiation, Vol. 1, pp. 327 -334.

Fisher, R. and Ury, W. 1981, Getting to yes: negotiating agreement without giving in, Houghton Mifflin.

Foster, A. 1995, Bargaining across borders: how to negotiate business successfully anywhere in the world, McGraw-Hill.

Graham, J.L. and Lam, N.M. 2003, ‘The Chinese Negotiation’, Harvard Business Review, October, pp. 82 - 91.

Herbig, P. and Gulbro, R. 1997, ‘External influences in the cross-cultural negotiation process’, Industrial management and Data Systems, Vol. 97, no. 4, pp. 158-168.

Koh, T. 1996, ‘American Strengths and Weaknesses’, International Negotiation, Vol. 1, pp.313-317.

McDonald, J. 1996, ‘An American’s View of a U.S. Negotiating Style’, International Negotiation, Vol. 1, pp. 323-326.

Palich, L., Carini, G., & Livingstone L. 2002, ‘Comparing American and Chinese negotiating styles: The influence of logic paradigms’, Thunderbird International Business Review, Vol. 44, no.6, pp.777-798.

United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. 2005, World Investment Report 2005.

United States Institute of Peace. 2002, U.S. Negotiating Behavior, Special Report no. 94, October.

We found this on-topic video on youtube and thought it could be useful to our viewers.  The following is the unedited description straight from the youtube video:

Google TechTalks
August 24, 2006

Terry Hird, UC Berkeley, Founder of Negotiation-International, has over 25 years of international business and negotiation under his belt. Terry's work as a business owner, consultant and educator has brought him into contact with top business, organizations and learning institutions around the world. He has done business and negotiation in more than fifty countries throughout Asia, Europe, The Middle East, South America, and Africa. To learn more about Terry & Negotiation-International, visit

There is no Chinese word for negotiation. Tan pan translates "discussion or making a judgment". In Chinese a negotiation...