“Face” And Working With Asian Companies

By Jamie McSloy / July 17, 2018
asian international business face concept featured image

This article is for all you budding international business titans who want to work with people on the international stage.

It’s modified from my Twitter, where I posted about this earlier.

In Asia, many of the cultures have a concept called “face.”

Western business gurus talk about this a lot. It’s a mixture of honour, reputation, pride and vanity.

When dealing with Asian companies, the concept of “face” is huge.

According to sources online, it’s a tough concept for us to grasp, and one must absorb the complexities in order to do business with these strange, exotic people.

I’m not that smart, so here’s the quick guide:

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The Concept Of “Face” In International Business

There are a handful of rules, which I will put to you in simple terms. If you follow these rules, you’ll cover 90% of what “face” is all about.

Think of it though as “public honour” or “interpersonal reputation.” It’s basically how you look to people; and how you treat people is a part of that.

(Because an honourable person of good reputation doesn’t associate with the filth of society, you must always act like you’re both at that level.)

For Example:

Don’t openly say “Can you do X?” because they’re going to say “Yes” even if they can’t.

To say you can’t do something is to say to the person that you are inferior.

This is good advice for anyone working on the internet full stop, because ultimately some dude 5,000 miles away doesn’t care about your end result.

Ultimately, once you send that money across you’re much more invested than your supplier. So you have to do the background research.

Here’s how to handle it:

Instead, say, “What can you do?”

Or if you need more, don’t ask, “Can you get me more?”

Ask, “If we needed a production increase, how would you do it?”

In other words, create open questions and pay attention to the answers.

On Quality Control and Production

The most important aspect of quality control when dealing with Asian companies is unrelated to face.

It’s related to who actually does the production and quality control. Often, it’s not the guy selling to you.

A lot of people think they’re working directly with manufacturers when they aren’t. They’re working with a guy who is dropshipping from a wholesaler that works with the manufacturers.

But let’s keep this on face…

Quality control coming from Asia (mostly China) – whether it’s soft services or hard products – is sketchy. Everyone knows this.

In terms of face, the last thing you should do is email saying, “Hey… this product line is shit and all my customers want refunds. What the hell are you doing?”

Instead, you need to suggest things to make it better – and possibly eat the cost/suggest to them a better alternative that’ll make them more.

Make It Win-Win

“Some orders have been broken – We’re happy to pay for [cardboard] packaging if you can arrange it. We can afford X on order.”

Some might balk at the above suggestion, but honestly if adding $0.10 to your order value is a deal breaker, then your business model has bigger issues.

This brings me onto one of the main points in this article.

Treat Good People Well

If you get a good supplier or partner, you should be liberal with praise and compliments. If you can afford it, throw in bonuses. If you can’t, at least don’t sweat small amounts of money.

People want to arbitrage for cost reasons, but then penny pinch when they’re saving 4x…

Understand; that in an honour/pride based culture, being a pedantic penny pincher is NOT going to get you what you want. You have face in their eyes, and you lose it by not playing by the rules.

Also, be polite when you can. Cursing people in public (or not) is never going to get you what you want.

If you’re having a terrible day, don’t pass it on.

If you’re having a great day, pass it on.

For the record: It’d be nicer doing business in the West if we adopted these rules.

A Lot Of Online Business Guys Are Just Rude… Don’t Be Them

People complain about “errors in translation” in online business, but a bunch of guys are just plain rude and over-demanding while being trying to be as tight with money/effort as possible…

Like the guy who’ll get a $5 article on Fiverr and then charge it back on his credit card so you don’t get paid.

Or the guy who’ll buy 100 cuddly toys from Alibaba for $20 and wonder why they’re not made with pure angel hair.

Of course you aren’t going to get great results if you’re cheap, angry and constantly asking for more from people you work with.

Let’s Summarise

So to summarise our rules for face thus far:

  • don’t force people to say “we can’t do something”
  • be a nice person whenever you can
  • ask open questions and don’t take stuff at face value
  • appreciate it if you get good service
  • don’t complain, suggest improvements…

And finally, it’s worth noting that there’s a big mindset problem amongst a lot of businesses running arbitrage in this way.

Fix Your International Business Mindset

If you think of all business as a competition and you’re trying to get one over the companies you work with – be they Asian, African, American or wherever, you will eventually lose.

Instead follow this advice: Business SHOULD be win-win for everyone.

There’s no point in complaining to complain or being difficult for the sake of it.

Do you want to moan or do you want to work out a solution where both you and your partners win?

This attitude is the one you need to make it work.


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