Smile. Nod. Bow.
Smile. Nob. Bow.
"What are you doing?"
asked my wife as she watched me in front of our bathroom mirror the other
groveling," I replied, adjusting my nod slightly so as to not be so
"Let me guess. Mr. Chin is
in town." Now I was working on my bow. Just a slight dip of the
shoulders, nothing too obvious.
"Thatís right," I
said, "and my groveling techniques are rusty. If youíd care to have
food on the table for the next 10 years, Iíd suggest you help me
evaluate this smile."
Mr. Chin was the new landlord of
the building in which my main retail store is situated. Consequently, he
is one of the masters of my little universe.
He is also from Hong Kong and
speaks very little English, which makes it difficult to perform competent
groveling. Iím left with mostly body language to communicate my
everlasting loyalty, friendship and eagerness to please. Smile. Nod. Bow.
Now that may sound pathetic, but
consider the circumstances. Mr. Chin has full control over a good portion
of my business. While I offer some advantages to him , they are minuscule
in comparison to what he offers to me.
Itís called negotiating
position. My position just happens to be on my knees.
On this particular morning last
week, Mr. Chin and I had a lunch date scheduled. I needed a concession
from Mr. Chin on the lease. I absolutely had to have a waiver of a clause
in the lease and Mr. Chin had absolutely no reason to give it to me.
Being on my knees was starting to
look good Ė in this instance I was flat on my back. Not an enviable
position. Smile. Nod. Bow.
Lunch was at a restaurant across
the street from my office. Mr. Chin brought his attorney, his real estate
agent and his daughter. All spoke fluent Chinese. I brought my groveling
I made it clear from the
beginning that I was buying lunch. Fortunately, I was wise enough to pass
out a six-month profit/loss statement (from one of the stores that would
be the subject of the discussion) before the waiter could pass out the
menus. It showed a sizeable loss.
Everyone ordered only salads.
Round one to me.
Halfway through the meal, the
heavy negotiations began. I made my argument, and Mr. Chinís attorney,
Lillian, translated. Every so often Mr. Chin would glance at me. Smile,
Nod. (No bow due to table restrictions. Hope heíll understand.)
After Lillian was finished, Mr.
Chin would respond to her in Chinese, and Lillian would translate for me.
This went on, back and forth, for quite some time. The worst part was when
all four of my guests would converse in Chinese, leaving me to stare into
Most disconcerting was that
apparently some words donít translate well and I would pick them up. Mr.
Chin would be rambling along in Chinese and I would hear "babble
blah, blah babble, blah, blah, blah Minimum Charge blah, blah, bla."
I would turn to Lillian.
"Either Iím beginning to understand Chinese, which is doubtful, or
else I just heard the words Ďminimum charge.í"
She looked at me, smiled, and
then nodded and turned away. I knew at that point I was likely to get what
I wanted, but it was going to cost me plenty.
I listened some more, and
although I thought I heard "Making Money Was Never This Easy in Hong
Kong" intermixed among Mr. Chinís Chinese dissertation, I was
probably just letting my imagination run wild.
In the end, it did indeed cost me
plenty. But Mr. Chin, in the spirit of cooperation and good faith, was
very reasonable with me. My negotiating position was pitiful, but Mr. Chin
listened to my translated arguments and chose not to squeeze me too hard.
We shook hands, both of us happy
to have the problem out of the way. He seems to be a genuinely good man,
and a solid relationship between the two of us appears to be growing. He
raised his glass and proposed a toast. "I have old saying," he
said, using the fractured English that I seldom hear from him. "You
donít get nothing for nothing."
Iím pretty sure he meant
"you donít get something for nothing." I looked around at his
attorney, his real estate agent and his daughter. They all obviously
caught his mistake as well.
We all smiled and nodded, and Mr.
Chin smiled and nodded back.