Meetup REPLAY: Handling troublesome Chinese partners and employees

employees partners Oct 22, 2020

During our latest One China Business Forum Meetup LIVE, one of our participants shared a troubling issue he was having with one of his direct reports in China, whom he referred to as "always scheming." This person continually "lies and misleads" and is strongly suspected of collaborating with a competitor.

There multiple considerations for addressing this situation:

  1. How to prevent this type of behavior
  2. How to find evidence of this behavior
  3. How to resolve this situation when sufficient evidence is uncovered

There is also an additional consideration that is strategically important:

  • How to interpret this behavior in the proper cultural context so prevention measures or remedies can be implemented and harmful overreactions can be prevented

Other China experts on the Zoom call shared several valuable tips and insights, which are extremely valuable to gain a holistic perspective. In the post, I will only summarize my key considerations specific to the issue at hand.


  • The troublesome person in question is 1 of 5 salespeople in China
  • He has been with the company for ten years
  • He has been reporting directly to our attendee for the past three years
  • He is perceived as very dishonest
  • He is strongly suspected of collaborating with a competitor

CONSIDERATION #1: Is this type of behavior preventable?

Yes, but the more positive and acceptable interaction patterns would need to be established much earlier thru the development of real Guanxi relationships.

CONSIDERATION #2: What is the best way to find evidence of unacceptable activities?

When there is mistrust or suspicion, it is counterproductive to confront and inquire directly with the suspect. This outcome will ALWAYS be a denial or excuse, which usually results in a neverending circular conversation.

To get real, substantive answers, initiate a series of casual conversations with all other stakeholders, which are the four other salespeople and key customers. Our ability to ask discreet questions indirectly that triggers free talk will reveal the answers and evidence necessary to take decisive action.

CONSIDERATION #3: How do we resolve this situation with minimal disruption and loss of Face?

The trickiest aspect of addressing China's problems is HOW to do it socially acceptable without causing loss of Face to yourself, customers, employees, and partners.

It is essential to keep in mind that Chinese society doesn't frown upon most behavior that Westerners consider corrupt, especially when enacted against foreigners who Chinese feel have a history of bullying China.

CONSIDERATION X: How should we reinterpret Chinese behavior in the most advantageous way?

I also suggest my clients and students reimagine Chinese behavior within the proper cultural context without judgment. Chinese behave in a universal manner, which is the socially acceptable manner by society, Chinese society. Therefore, we should first seek to understand Chinese behavior before judging it.

Chinese people like to 占便宜 (Zhànpiányí) to extract small advantages whenever possible, especially with foreigners. Chinese also expect other Chinese people to exact those same small advantages. They often allow it as a form of goodwill, which continues the reciprocity necessary to develop and maintain Guanxi (关系) relationships.

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