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5 min read

How to Manage Cultural Differences in the Workplace in China

5 min read

How to Manage Cultural Differences in the Workplace in China

Today’s global marketplace requires business leaders to know how to deal with diverse workplaces and markets. Transcultural leaders who understand the various cultural differences when emerging into new markets are a tremendous resource for their businesses.

By blending eastern and western management styles, multinational companies can help develop their key team members into international and respected leaders. Strategic stakeholders can mold their management styles so that they are able to relate to their workforce in another country.

Sky Executive can help you establish a multicultural corporate environment that realizes and respects the key cultural differences in the workplace in China. Here are a few strategies to help your mindset and strategic plan when launching in the Chinese market.

Identify Key Differences

Many people who come to work in China or with Chinese workers may be surprised at the differences from the western culture. Many of these are unexpected differences. Some major points to keep in mind include:

Chinese Management is Hierarchical 

While western employers want to seem relatable to employees and may ask for input to change the corporate structure, Chinese management is hierarchical. Business leaders in China are not used to being questioned by junior employees and sharing an opinion may be misinterpreted as criticism if not careful.

Collaboration is Less Common

Partially due to the strong management style and superiority system, Chinese workplaces tend not to have as much collaboration. Each unit may operate largely autonomously from other units in the business.

Less Transparency Is Common, Which May Cause Problems

There may be less transparency in Chinese companies than in western-founded companies. Because employees do not want to question authority or appear as though they are criticizing a higher-ranking official in the business, problems may not be revealed when they have just surfaced. This may make it more likely that the problem can become out of hand.

Standards Are Different

While western businesses may try to achieve perfection, many Chinese companies set a lower standard in which they aim for “good enough.” This difference may make it difficult for western and eastern stakeholders to work together at first until they reach a compromise on what they expect.

Ask the Right Questions 

Don’t Make Assumptions

It is important that you do not make assumptions when working with a diverse workplace. Remember that you see things through your own lens and perspective based on your cultural upbringing. Chinese workers will likely do the same.

Rather than making a negative inference, step back from the situation and try to get a more objective viewpoint. You may find that by asking some clarifying questions, you are able to better understand an issue or why a worker has made a certain decision.

This curiosity can also show that you care and that you are interested in finding solutions by working together. There is often less oversight in the Chinese workplace, so you might need to take some extra steps to understand how a certain process works.

Ask and Listen

Western cultures often tend to spend much more time explaining their own point of view than listening to others’. Facilitate effective intercultural communication by showing respect to employees. When you ask a question, listen for their answer.

Try not to persuade the workers to agree with your perspective; instead, focus on the support they provide for their own viewpoint. This approach may help you build trust and appreciation in your workforce.

Try Different Situations

Chinese employees may not always respond openly to your questions. Try to get more information from them by switching up the situation. Some options are:

  • Take them to lunch and ask their opinion
  • Have a structured meeting
  • Have group meetings where you encourage others to state their ideas

You may find that some employees are hesitant to speak up in group settings and may defer to older or more experienced workers. However, you may be able to elicit some useful information by changing the background of the meeting, such as making it a private or smaller meeting.

Ask Questions the Right Way

While you want to show your curiosity for your new employees, it is also important not to fire off a number of questions at the same time. Doing this may cause your employees to feel distrustful or on the spot.

Some ways to ask questions in a way that is likely to get you the response you want include:

  • Prepare a list of well thought-out questions beforehand.
  • Speak with confidence.
  • Be assertive without intimidating others.
  • State your sentence clearly and briefly.
  • Be concise.
  • Ask open-ended questions to get a more thorough answer.
  • After the person answers the question, summarizes what the person said so that you can show your understanding.

Embrace Differences

It is important that you appreciate the strengths and skills that workers from various cultures bring with them. Rather than trying to mold your Chinese workplace into a western company or make your company more Chinese, embrace these differences and allow for them in your business.

For example, you can recognize the traditional Chinese hierarchy while still asking your team members for their feedback and opinions. Many successful business leaders will look for information to develop a better cultural understanding. They may formulate interests in the local food, sports, hobbies and pastimes in their new surroundings. They may also gain insight from local television, newspapers and conversations with others.

Many business leaders become more successful when they establish and rely on a network of people. When expanding to China, you may not have a lot of contacts immediately. However, you can develop close relationships with those in your new country.

When you demonstrate your willingness to understand others and explain the work expectations, your workforce will likely respond by being available to help you. It is also important to be willing to share your time, knowledge and resources with new workers. This helps you to become a trusted member of the social network, which can pay off down the line because you will have supporters when you need them the most.

Being sensitive to cultural differences can help you connect better with your new culture and make a better impression on the workforce.

Be a Thought Leader

Make yourself stand out in the business by being the person that others turn to for advice and understanding. By being an authority on relevant issues, you can increase your role in the business and solidify your position as a leader in the business.

Blend Leadership Styles

Try to avoid thinking that your way of doing business has been successful so far so it will inevitably be successful in China.

China is a vast country that is founded on thousands of years of tradition. You have a lot that you can learn by observing Chinese professionals at work. Be sure that you explain why you are asking for feedback and be open with your workers. They may not be accustomed to this approach, but blending your style and theirs can help you form a cohesive working relationship.

Encourage workers to express their different views. These views can potentially lead to great change for your business. Foster an environment that allows you and the business model to be challenged. The goal should be to create a better organization.

Create Solutions 

By blending your leadership style and asking relevant questions, you open the door to create solutions in your workplace. This strategy allows you to promote innovation and a respect for the diversity of your workplace. Consider if the business is suffering from any of the following problems:

  • Gaps in strategy
  • Multiple people doing the same work
  • Cross-functional issues that jeopardize the business
  • A lack of transparency that continues to problems
  • Confusion regarding who is in charge of certain aspects of the business

Ask your team to identify creative solutions to these challenges by relying on their diverse backgrounds.

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At RemotePad, Lech draws on his professional experience to write about employment taxes and payroll (both remote, and in-office). Lech holds a Bachelors’ degree from the University of Kent, a Master of Arts (MA) from Kings College London, and professional payroll and tax qualifications. He has 20 years experience advising on all manner of tax and business planning matters.