Skip to content
Home » Export Blog » Export General Knowledge » Chinese Whispers: Be Clear about Your Export Strategy

Chinese Whispers: Be Clear about Your Export Strategy

A lot of us played Chinese Whispers Game in school or in a business training. The lesson we learnt from Chinese Whispers Game is: the message passed on get garbled along the way. A garbled message will damage the business. This may happen in any cultures. The United State call “Chinese Whispers” as “Telephone Game”. To prevent the miscommunication and misunderstanding we need to keep our message very clear. This is especially important when you pass your export strategy to your export clients who speak different languages.

There are many explanations about the origin of “Chinese Whispers”. We are not discussing the linguistic here, but some studies mentioned that Westerners use “Chinese Whispers” because they found Chinese language and Chinese culture were confusing and hard to understand when Europeans and Chinese started to communicate in the 17th century. If Westerners found Chinese hard to understand, the Chinese people also found foreign languages hard to understand. For more discussion about the origin of Chinese Whispers please find here. We will focus on the export strategy.

Export Strategy


Sometime, it doesn’t need too many messengers before the message get garbled. This happened easily in an informal business talk. A careless chat in a business context will cause unpredictable damage to your export business and your export strategy.

Here is a true story how a careless talk at a trade show harmed the export strategy.

Couple of years ago, I need to bring a bakery chef to help our Taiwan distributor at the Taipei International Food Exhibition. Our domestic bakery sales volunteered his service. I trusted him because he had his own bakery shop for couple of years and has very good communication skills with Australian clients. A typical “Mate” style Aussie. Let’s call him Chef Y.

Chef Y is very excited with his first overseas trip. With his first passport he came to Taiwan with me and enjoyed the Chinese foods very much. At the welcome dinner he started talking about his bakery skills. Our Taiwan distributor is very impressed about his story. The boss asked Chef Y if he could present an “Australian Bakery Show” at the exhibition show stage using our ingredients. “No worries, Mate”, Chef Y answered with foods in his mouth.

The over-enjoyed Boss immediately called the bakery show organiser and requested a special presentation for Chef Y. Since all the bakery show time has been fixed already, it took the Boss a big effort over the phone to squeeze in a 30 minutes “Chef Y’s Australian Bakery Show” during the lunch break. The dinner finished with a big “Gan Bei” (drink a toast) and the Boss thanked me gratefully for bringing Chef Y to support them.

The next morning, I showed Chef Y around the exhibition before it officially opened. It is the first time for Chef Y to see so many beautifully presented cakes, pastries and even breads. He tasted some and started worrying.

When we arrived at our distributor’s stand, the Boss asked Chef Y what ingredients and tools he needs for his demonstration. Chef Y pulled me to a corner and whispered “Look at the beautiful cakes and pastries, nothing I can contribute further. I will be shamed if I do demonstration at the show. People will laugh at me!”. I was so embarrassed by his whispers (not Chinese Whispers), and tried my best to solve this problem with the Boss. At the end, we paid for another Taiwan famous bakery Chef to cover Chef Y’s demonstration. People who came to see Aussie bakery Chef Y were disappointed that they couldn’t see the real Aussie Chef, but they were very happy with our products. Not a bad result!

Then the worse things happened because of Chef Y’s Chinese Whispers.

While we were busy with the bakery demonstration, Chef Y went out to talk with other bakery distributors who can understand a bit English. About one hours later, Chef Y came to me very excited and loudly said “Taiwan is such a big bakery market, I believe we can sell three times more if not ten times more in this market!”. I wondered where he found the “gold mine”, and half an hour later, some people came to our stand and start talking with the Boss over Chinese tea like old friends. Chef Y looks anxiously while he saw the guests and I felt being isolated.

A long day finished. The Boss asked me for a private dinner and sent his sales manager bring Chef Y to the night market for delicious Taiwanese street foods.

At the dinner, the Boss was very upset about the cancel of the Chef Y’s presentation. He lost “FACE” because he argued deadly for this opportunity the night before based on Chef Y’s whispers. He was even angrier that his competitor told him that Chef Y visited their stand and told them we can supply them if they can sell more.

The boss said “They were the people who visited my stand and had tea together. Taiwan market is small, everyone knows everyone in the bakery market. They are my competitors but they are also my friends. They told me to be careful about disloyal supplier”. I didn’t have any appetites to finish my beautiful Japanese dinner, apologise is the only way to say with Sake.

I hope the Sake help repair the loyalty. A Japanese and a Chinese way of relationship building.

What we learnt from this true story?

  1. The message itself must be true – Chef Y shouldn’t exaggerate his bakery skills and volunteered his bakery demonstration the first night.

  2. Have a clear export strategy – The export strategy should not be on the paper only, it should be discussed and agreed by all related staff. It is more important if the staff is going to attend an export event. In this case, I should have advised Chef Y that we are on the trade show to support our distributor not to find a new distributor. We need to sell through our distributor not to sell over the distributor.

  3. Do not whisper: Be careful about business chat, a careless talk can become a serious topic. The game of Chinese Whispers.

If you want to have review of your export strategy and avoid export mistakes, please contact us.

1 thought on “Chinese Whispers: Be Clear about Your Export Strategy”

  1. Pingback: Export is fun - be optimism - Export Consultant - Link Asia -

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.