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Intercultural Management - China

Being a Manager in China
Management Guide China

The first thing you will notice when doing business in China is that all issues are looked at from the same vantage point - how will this benefit China or Chinese business. The Chinese always want to know what your company can do that they cannot already do for themselves.

Communication is both formal and indirect. Since China is an extremely homogeneous country, there is much that can be said without using words. Cross cultural communication can often be difficult as westerners find it difficult to appreciate the subtleties of certain situations.

The Role of a Manager

Successful cross cultural management in China is more likely if you bear in mind that each person has a very distinct role within the organization, and maintaining that role helps to keep order.

In general, the manager may function autocratically and dictate to his subordinates. At the same time, managers will not compliment or chastise an employee publicly. In fact, should they want to communicate bad news to their employees, they might use an intermediary.

Approach to Change

Whereas China has traditionally had a medium tolerance for change and risk its intercultural adaptability is rapidly improving due to the increasing demands of the global marketplace.

In the more traditional companies cross cultural sensitivity is essential as the fear of exposure, and the potential of embarrassment that may accompany failure, still brings about aversion to risk. Any ideas raised by an individual need to be raised gently to avoid exposing that person.

Approach to Time and Priorities

China is a moderate time culture and typically there may be some flexibility to strict adherence to schedules and deadlines. Nevertheless, the expectations of global and intercultural expansion have caused the Chinese to adopt relatively strict standards of adhering to schedules.

Decision Making

Effective cross cultural management needs to bear in mind the hierarchy of this culture. There may be informal networking between employees themselves or supervisors and employees, although actual power is generally held in the hands of a few key people at the top of the organization.

Although changing, China's ingrained bureaucracy is still evident in government offices and all but the most entrepreneurial companies. Departments tend to work quite independently of each other and only share selected information. Rivalries often exist within the same company.

Boss or Team Player?

In China there is a significant deference to authority and generally an inhibition to speaking out. This may be a particular challenge in a collaborative or team environment. More recently, this trait has been changing in the younger generations who have found employment in multinational companies and have embraced the idea of teamwork and participation.

Communication and Negotiation Styles

Make sure you bring along a senior level executive to be part of the negotiating team. The Chinese will enter a room based on rank and you must make sure you do the same. Only the most senior person will speak during discussions.

Cross cultural success is more likely if you are aware of some of the negotiating tactics that are often deployed. These can include using silence to put pressure on you to concede points and delaying everything until the last minute so that you feel pressured to push things through quickly. It is worth maintaining your composure at these times. Under no circumstances should you lose your temper or you will lose face and irrevocably damage your relationship.

Avoid cross cultural miscommunication by ensuring written material is available in both English and Chinese, using simplified characters and try to phrase your questions so that they require more than a yes or no response. This will allow you to make certain you were understood.

It is imperative in writing contracts to have independent legal advice from someone intimately familiar with the business environment in China. Spell out everything.

Do not overlook national laws and be extremely cautious about those you are choosing to do business with. It is worth checking the financial status of all related companies.

Want more? Go to the Intercultural Management Guides page

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