Understanding the Chinese Cultural Context

China is a high context culture; Canada isa low context culture.

Low context means everything you want to sayis in your words.

We say “I say what I mean and I mean whatI say!” and we just do it very directly.

In a high context culture like China, muchless is said via words, some via expressions, somethings are said because what’s not beingsaid.

So as a westerner, the way I like to describeit is you need to turn your radar way way up, and you always have to be sensing what’shappening, because if you only look at what has been said you’ll not understand thewhole situation.

Another element of that indirectness oftencomes if somebody doesn’t like what’s happening.

They will not tell you directly.

I found out this the hard way when I workedearly in my career for a Chinese company.

One of the senior managers really didn’tlike what I was doing.

The first time he didn’t like it, he justkept quiet.

The second time, he still kept quiet.

The third time, if you’re lucky, they’lltell someone else, and ultimately it may get back to you.

That’s what happened in this.

We had a bit of standoff between me, a young23 year old North American woman, and this old-fashioned Chinese business person, andit came to ahead where the president had to get involved.

I won! I got to stay; the other guy got to leave.

But I learned a lot from that because it turnedout that he was very unhappy with certain things I was doing.

These were little things.

I wanted to recycle paper in the office.

That was how big it was.

But it was “This strange foreign woman inour company trying to do things that were different!” So I now make sure that not only in Chineseculture but certain other cultures as well, that I really remember that I probably don’tget it, and I should turn my radar on.

One of the things that I often say when Igive my lectures on Chinese culture is to say “I’m gonna describe to you these Confusionelements and that will form the thinking of a fairly traditional Chinese person.

” But in this day and age, you’re workingwith people that maybe went and studied in North America and came back.

So they may actually be very western in theirthinking.

So you may find it a pleasant surprise andnot have to be as conditioned to thinking about Chinese ways and culture.

But you should also be prepared that someof the same very westernized people when they are acting in a Chinese environment will beas Chinese as anybody else.

So you’re always better prepared for thefull scenario and then just be ready to adjust.

But also, the important thing to think aboutin your business transaction is that there’s benefit for both sides, and everybody is meetingin the middle, on terms, conditions; they’ll meet in the middle on cultural aspects.

So we’re doing all of this in service oftrying to succeed.

So if both sides are succeeding, it becomesmuch easier to mitigate those differences.

Another element of the Chinese culture isthis sort of harmony, collective thinking.

When you are working with a team in China,there’ll be a lot more team building that is done in a way that we’re not always comfortablewithin western culture.

Back in the company I was working for yearsago, we did a weekend trip, and on that weekend trip we went to a resort.

In a North American setting, most people wouldhave gone off and done their own activities all day.

Yet, everything was preplanned for us, thegroup singing, the group dinners and everything.

I realized that there was a lot of benefitto be derived from just going with the flow, especially because earlier in my career Iwas working in a high-tech company where everybody worked overtime.

They actually worked overtime because if youworked past 7pm, you got money for dinner.

Nobody actually did any work after 7pm, butmost of them stayed in the office and they got their little takeout boxes and they atetogether.

I was a young, fresh out of university graduate,and I wanted to get my work done.

I wanted my money for dinner but I also wantedto go to the gym.

So I would leave work, go to the gym and eatafterwards.

After a few months of this, some of my colleaguesactually shared with me that they felt hurt that I didn’t want to hang out with themat night.

So I realized that this collective elementthat really drove a lot of the culture.

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