Whether quoting projects, developing products or just managing your orders, it’s very likely that you run in to what seems like immoveable walls.

When it comes to buying from the Middle Kingdom, communication, if not the #1 barrier, is in the top 3 of headache-inducing culprits between you and your suppliers.

Here are some reasons for misunderstandings in China manufacturing.

They’re using English and you’re not using Chinese: This is probably the most obvious reason. There is a huge language barrier. And a true language barrier isn’t just about the spoken word, but cultural reasons are buried within there too. One thing that clearly sticks out to me is that if the Chinese are using English, then the situation, already starts off from a weakened stand point.

In English, there is less “oomph” with each requirement, each clause, each consequence, than if the factory is reading or hearing it in Chinese.

When factories are speaking to Chinese buyers or buying offices with Chinese staff, there more of a seriousness about their work than if they’re working with foreign clientele. I had first-hand experience in asking why such and such wasn’t handled to the fullest extent or why didn’t the factory know this was serious and the response I received was, “Because it was in English”.

Also in managing cases and orders in English, it connects the vendor with the distance of the buyer and the therefore the distance of consequences. In the low-cost manufacturing industry, consequences to a vendor are not that fearful if the buyer is on the other side of the globe.

Vendors don’t thoroughly read emails and your emails are too wordy: Admit it, most of you who are reading this probably don’t thoroughly read your emails. In China, when an English email is received and if the reader comes across a word that is unknown or that they are unsure of, they don’t go to the translator, they don’t pull out a dictionary… they completely skip it. They won’t ask what your meaning was in that phrase, they won’t dig deeper to find out what that was all about.

Their eye completely skips perhaps a crucial spec, as if it was not in the email or document.

If a vendor doesn’t repeat a point back to you in the form of a confirmation or objection, chances are they didn’t see the point (i.e. fully skipped it).

Your sales contact has to assure the line workers are doing the right job. Striving to understand what you mean should be a distant 2nd place.

#1 priority of your sales contact should be making sure the line workers are producing correctly. Be a help to them in understanding what’s needed.

You leave too much open to interpretation: This one falls on the buyers’ side. I see buyers simply not give straight answers to straight questions (or as straight as possible).

Questions are good signs from vendors and factories. It shows they are responsibly considering, thinking and calculating the job. As a buyer, you should welcome and invite questions from your vendor.

When the vendor asks you a question, it’s not the time to send a ultra-pithy and misspelled response from your iPhone. It’s also not the time to be cutesy and say “same as sample” or “Like I already told you…”. Answer them as straight as possible. Give a visual with marked lines, circles and descriptions if necessary.

Show a seriousness with your project. Many buyers (especially in the promotional product industry) are quality experts and become indignant only after a problem. This may work onshore when a domestic supplier will jump through all sorts of hoops for you, but when you’re working offshore, you’re not in Kansas anymore.

Leaving anything open to interpretation is leaving it open for the supplier to choose the easiest and most of the time, the cheapest way.

Too much time between each update from buyer side: Vendors don’t build on what’s been quoted, things are not documented, prices are quoted via a Skype or a QQ window. So if you take a break, go on a business trip or don’t get back to the vendor for even a brief time, say a week or 2, it can cause the supplier to approach the job as if it’s the first time they’ve touched the job.

Specs are confused and prices have a way of increasing over a few weeks if you requote on a same campaign or similar job.

Vendors don’t ask questions: Questions are not forthcoming in a business setting in China. There is not the concept of “feel free to ask” therefore people don’t freely let ideas or question flow. A worker, colleague or even boss can interrupt mid sentence with a stream of “yeah, yeah yeah’s” (or in Chinese, “hao, hao, hao’s”) and you’re left thinking “Did they even get what I was saying? They cut me off and just started saying yeah, yeah, yeah”.

Many vendors, especially those with whom you don’t have a strong relationship (i.e. give a lot of orders to), if they don’t understand something, they won’t bother to ask, thus adding their own interpretation. Try to pry questions out of your vendors to gauge if they’ve actually studied and considered the project.

Lack of questions and even lack of pushback may be a sign that are not closely calculating the quote or monitoring the job. An argumentative supplier can be a caring supplier. In China, if someone argues, that mean they care. People who don’t care or regard your business, won’t bother saying anything. Don’t take contrariness as a sign of a bad supplier. This is a common misconception.

Limited motivation: Your sales contact may not simply care enough to try and understand the gist of the project. This is especially true if you’re not a big buyer.

The smaller the buyer you are, the more you want to give all the details to your vendor on a silver platter. Avoid guess work, so they can focus on the numero uno important thing..which of course is quality.