As a fairly sensitive person who loathes confrontation and raised to never talk about money, it’s no exaggeration that I dread salary negotiations.
Last year, to add to my dread, I was forced to go through negotiations with a new company I had recently joined in China.
I had lived and worked in China before, so for me, the culture shock of being back wasn’t too bad. The Chinese way of life, steeped in over 5,000 years of history, can be overwhelming to those who have been raised in the West.
The first time I moved to China I couldn’t hold chopsticks, let alone understand the complexity of a place where ancient history, religion, and traditional values battle it out with pop culture, materialism, and technological worship.
While I’m unqualified to offer any real insight into life in modern China, I have learned a thing or two about salary negotiation—things I’d like to share with you:
Understanding the Chinese Way.
In China, salary negotiations take place face to face and over a period of weeks, even months, so it’s crucial that you enter into them with a clear goal of what you want to achieve. I always go into my meetings with a notepad and keep records of the conversations we have. This may seem over the top if you’ve never done it before, but it’s common in China and, given the circumstances and language barrier, totally reasonable.
Did you know that in China employers pay additional taxes on their employees wages that act as a form of social insurance? This tax can push the cost of your wage to the company up by 40 percent. Did you also know that you will get an extra month of pay during Chinese New Year, meaning you will receive 13 months of pay for 12 months of work? No? Well, now you do! Knowledge is power.
Be Mindful of Chinese Customs and Etiquette.
In Chinese, the word for “negotiation” consists of both the character for “discuss” and the character for “judge.”
Westerners tend to think of negotiation as something of a competition where there is a winner and a loser, but in China it’s an exercise in building trust and reaching an understanding that is mutually beneficial.
The Chinese concept of “saving face” is important here. Employers don’t want to feel as though they have been forced into a corner, but they’d be horrified if they thought they had disrespected or belittled you.
Salary negotiation is a long, dynamic process that may be a lot more personal than you’re used to. There may even be a few cringeworthy moments. My best advice on getting through it is to open your mind and maintain your sense of humor at all costs.
Assemble a Team.
The first time I stepped into my new boss’s office and was met with a whole gang of smiling faces, I thought it was all over and I was getting fired. What I didn’t know, is that it is common in China for salary or employment contract negotiations to involve a number of people.
To make things easier, try to identify the person who is making the decisions and direct your conversation toward them. Also, bear in mind that it is quite acceptable to bring a team of people into negotiations yourself, perhaps including a translator and a confidence-boosting colleague.
Build Good Guanxi.
Guanxi is a complex and deep-rooted concept that has to do with personal connections.
Many foreigners think of guanxi as being something akin to good networking or being a member of the right clubs and institutions, but that’s not correct.
Guanxi is a form of status, defined by your standing within your peer group, close acquaintances, and relations. Good guanxi is not easy to come by, and once you’ve got it you have to work hard to maintain it.
Favors are granted with the expectation that they will be returned, but not necessarily immediately. For good quality guanxi, you’ve got to be prepared to play the long game.
Be Patient and Prepared to Prove Yourself.
To make some generalizations here, I’ve found that Chinese people are understated in their manner. The Chinese tend to recoil when faced with people who are over-the-top or super chatty, so it’s best to behave in a modest, respectful manner during business negotiations.
It’s also a great idea to socialize with your Chinese colleagues in order to get to know them on a personal level. Many a business deal has been made over a glass of rice wine.
Have patience with the Chinese way of doing things, be prepared to compromise, and never cut a negotiation short.
With all of that said, my best advice for negotiating a salary in China is to relax, smile, and just say what you feel.
Author: Valentin Barbu
Editor: Lieselle Davidson