The communication is a big part of the awkward unknowns that accompany China sourcing. The communication with your supplier can keep a sense that “something’s off” and you maintain a bewilderment concerning both parties being on the same page. 

Is it just “a language thing” or is there more to it?

Your counterpart or sales contact’s immediate goal

The immediate goal of your sales contact is not getting the project right. Or, growing a long-term business relations.

Their immediate goal is not making a mistake.

Therefore, since their immediate focus is not making a mistake, they are prone to make a ton of errors.

Little errors here and there that lead to big honking problems.

Or they’ll simply confirm something that is grossly incorrect.

When you’re only focused on the negative, you are unable to flow with a rhythmic smoothness in getting the right.

Not to sound like Dr. Phil, but there’s the since they are bound up by fear. Fear of blame from the boss, fear of blame from the client.

You see this from communication in a local restaurant in China all the way through to China sourcing communication.

There’s a bit of a misconception that only international business and China sourcing communication is muddled but everything domestically in China is fine. If that were the case, then there would be less problems between suppliers and their own vendors.

As an importer, you are an unofficial production manager. Part of your responsibility for project success is to help that sales contact feel confident and equip them with what they need. The more one enters a person’s inner-circle of friends, this egg-shell fear starts to dissipate.

Thoroughness is not a goal in China sourcing communication

“If the client has questions, they’ll ask.”

Suppliers view price quotes as a basis for further discussions. There is little thought from supply side that if something has to be right, then the buck stops with them.

One of the major pains in China sourcing communication is that although you are the buyer, a chunk of the burden of clarity and confirmations lay heavily on your shoulders.

…that is, if you want to get it right.

Hyper confidence in being right.

Although people have a fear of being blamed there also exists a great contradiction, which is a lack of self-doubting.

It’s as if there is an uber confidence that they are certainly, positively sure they are correct in what they are espousing.

Suppliers can be hyper-confident that they have your meaning. You may wonder, “how could they read and grasp all the specs that fast and respond so swiftly?”

This is why I’ve always said to be cautious with an immediate response; especially if the news is what you want to hear. Many problems happen because the buyer wanted to believe it.

Perhaps you suspect they could be as wrong as the day is long, but they stand firm, not batting an eye, stone-faced in what they are saying.

Suppliers tend to be unwilling to double-check or to call in help.

You will next-to-never hear them say, “well, I could be wrong in my assessment”.

It’s as if they are calling a bluff. Deep down they realize they are possibly wrong, but since they have played their chips, they’re going to let it ride.

Lack of communication within an organization

Connected to not double-checking or calling in any other help is the fact that within organizations there is little communication.

There’s so many people, positions and layers, but it’s as if there’s no real connection.

Another contradiction of China sourcing.

Because in China, many concepts, successes and failures are communal (not in physicality so much but in the concept). But when it comes to projects within an organization, the idea seems to be, “that’s not my client” or “I’m not handling that case”.

Person A won’t check with Person B because fear of displaying incapability.

Person B won’t check with Person A because nobody wants to second guess the other person and cause a loss of face.


Sometimes my articles seem to lack a solution. But I believe knowledge is the solution and the reason you know why things happen in your China sourcing and your orders, you will then know what to expect, how to deal with it and how to understand it.

Increased knowledge leads to increased patience.

Increased patience lets you scan the field and make calculative decisions.