Groveling skills canít get rusty

    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 morning.
    "Practicing my groveling," I replied, adjusting my nod slightly so as to not be so awkward.
    "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 abilities.
    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 space.
    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.


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