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Cross Cultural Management Guide - China 



What will you Learn in this Guide?

In this guide, expatriate managers will gain an understanding of a number of key cross cultural areas when working in China:

  • Hierarchy
  • Face
  • Harmony 
  • Leadership style
  • Time and scheduling 
  • Communication style and; 
  • Negotiation style 



Gain an Expert Understanding:

Once you've read this guide, ensure the success of your China business venture by: 


Being a Manager in 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 the Chinese business. You are likely to find that:

  • The Chinese like 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 direct the activities of subordinate team members and expect direction to be carried out as requested. 
  • The concept of 'face' is very important in China. As such, managers protect an employee's reputation by not chastising, challenging or criticising them publicly.
  • In the event that they wish to communicate bad news to their employees, they may well use an intermediary to protect harmony within the manager / employee relationship. 


Approach to Change

Whereas China has traditionally had a medium tolerance for change and risk, its intercultural adaptability is rapidly increasing due to the heightened 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 which may impact on decision making in the following ways:

  • 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. You may find that:

  • This impacts open team work and that people are generally less willing to speak up.  If you are managing a group, and want to invite the sharing of ideas, then ensure you emphasise that this is an open environment and that all contributions are valuable.
  • 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

  • Relationships and harmony are very important factors in Chinese business culture. As such, the communication style tends to be subtle and indirect with a preference to avoid any kind of confrontation. 
  • In negotiations, the value placed on relationships and harmony means that the Chinese generally seek a win-win outcome.
  • It's extremely important that you organise your negotiation team well.  Ensure that you have a senior executive on the team to act as the 'voice of the group'.  All other members of the group should be quiet unless explicitly invited to contribute. 
  • You should also identify a member of the team to play an intermediary role. This role plays a 'go between' function; interfacing with the intermediary on the Chinese team to resolve any issues and, as such, protect harmony between the two group leaders. 
  • 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 p,ush 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 during the contractual agreement phase to have independent legal advice from someone intimately familiar with the business environment in China.
  • 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.


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