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Mr. Chen said…

by Jacob Yount

Are you a verbal facilitator?

In other words are you someone who masks your inability by always quoting what others have said?

Or do you have original thoughts and add value to your conversations, your projects and take ownership?

Perhaps it’s not necessarily inability that’s being kept secret but it’s a way of playing it safe. A way of not sticking your neck on the line.

Verbal facilitators are also “quoters” or perhaps functional name droppers… I’m not exactly sure how to label this communication phenomenon.

We’ve all been guilty of aspects of this type of buck passing, but if we find ourselves doing this, we need to put a halt to it.

Many moons ago, back when I was based out of Dongguan, China, I was speaking to a teammate who just returned from an inspection of a shipment. We were having the debriefing meeting and I was asking this person questions, trying to get a clear assessment of the situation.

After each question, this person would preface each answer with “Mr. Chen said…”.

Mr. Chen was the factory manager and main point-of-contact for the employee who visited the factory.

I’d say, “what about this issue?”.  He’d say, “Mr. Chen said…”.


I’d say, “did you notice any of the…”. The employee would answer and again start off with a “Mr. Chen said…”.

I got to thinking, “well, why don’t you just go home and I talk to Mr. Chen?”

What value was this person bringing to the table? I don’t want to necessarily know anything that Mr. Chen says. Mr. Chen is  a great guy but the responsibility was yours to be the eyes, ears and also brain of the situation.

I want to know what you saw, what you think, what you feel.

They might have done the shipment inspection and they might have done a real good inspection. But they were unable to take ownership of the situation and make it theirs.

This person was not comparing and deducing information based on the facts and then adding their own expertise to the project. They were not go-to hub of facts, solutions and action but instead, simply an information passer.

I know I may be belaboring the point, but I want to make sure I’m typing this clearly.

This concept happens frequently in China, which is a more group-minded culture and the cultural-form of communication is to spread everything out so that no one individual is responsible. This includes errors and successes. Nobody is technically responsible for anything but good things and bad things are sort of like “forces” that just seem to “happen”.

The same thing happens here in the States and undoubtedly everywhere in some degree.

How about when you talk specifications or requirements with a client and each answer starts off with “My client said. My client wants. The client has to confirm. The client needs”.

My thinking is, “But what about you? What are you saying to add value to the supply chain? Why are you existing?”

How about buyers who just forward their buyers’ emails and delete the name and contact information? Would they put this on their website to their customers?

Contact us with your inquiry and we’ll skillfully forward your inquiry to a capable vendor. We don’t add any of our own skills and expertise to the project, but we’re very good at clicking “forward” and deleting your contat detail.

One buyer told me recently that they didn’t have answers to my questions and they were just “middle men”.

And I get that. We all serve in “middle men” roles in one form or another. We all deal with additional vendors or outsource one function or another. But if you are a serious professional, why would those words ever leave your mouth?

On a smaller scale it’s grating when you go to a restaurant and ask your server questions and for everything you ask, they have to “check with the kitchen”.

Should I go sit in the kitchen and eat in case other questions come up?

This is why the word “middle man” has a bad connotation.

That server, like, everyone else in business, from restaurants, to small business to buyers to vendors should be hubs of knowledge of their own field. There are times when you’re not going to be able to “check with the kitchen” and will have to on-the-spot prove your own worth, make a decision,  or add in your own refined and cultivated proverbial 2-cents into the project.

The people I do business with, whether employees, vendors or clients, I want to hear their opinions. I expect them to bring an expertise to the table. A persons “2-cents” should come from years of refining their own craft.

The easiest buyers to work with are those that don’t have to check with the client over every little question and confirmation. The best vendors to work with are those that know their trade and don’t require you to wait for a response from down the supply chain.

Do you want people to look to you as someone trustworthy who can fulfill expectations? Are you actually fulfilling a role in your supply chain or just playing hot potato with detail.

As great of a guy that Mr. Chen may be, folks who are dealing with you, want to hear what you have to say, what you think, how you are making this project your own and adding value to the chain.

Give Mr. Chen a rest…or either let me talk to him directly.

Jacob Yount lived in China from 2001 to 2012, during which time he started JLmade. He is now based out of North Carolina in the US and his home office is still in Suzhou, China; manufacturing and exporting branded merchandise, promotional products and retail gifts for distributors worldwide. Contact Jacob at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or find him on his blog.

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