Yesterday, Dr. Chen Ke of AllBright Law Offices in Shanghai spoke at USD School of Law on the formation of foreign invested enterprises. The real gem of the presentation was Dr. Chen's description of international negotiations.
Negotiations typically take place in a conference room with a long table. The principal negotiators, typically someone below the CEO because the CEOs are off "drinking and having fun," sit across from each other in the middle of the table. On one side of the negotiator is the numbers guy and on the other side is an attorney. The attorney's job is not to speak, but to quietly consult with their negotiator. Next to the attorney sits "The Troublemaker," the interpreter. The interpreter is likely fluent in both of the languages being spoken, but it is unlikely that an interpreter is fluent in the legalese of each respective language. This interpreter whispers mistranslations of legal terms of art into the ear of the attorney who whispers legal interpretations based upon mistranslations into the ear of the negotiator, and the negotiation begins to go sour in this game of telephone. Dr. Chen pointed out that the next negotiation often goes much smoother because the interpreter has lost all face and remains silent throughout.