The Chinese workplace is a whole different animal to that of the West, as is your Chinese boss. To help you figure it out, here are some tips on the Do’s and Don’ts of dealing with your Chinese superiors.
Know Your Place
Age and hierarchy are very important in China, both in the workplace and in the country at large. Even if you’re coming into a Chinese job as the hot new hire or an industry expert, be sure to acknowledge the boundaries of your position. Always remain modest and respect your elders and superiors. Never attempt to override or bypass your line manager or boss.
Use the Right Words
An easy way to win immediate points from your Chinese superiors is to make sure you address them correctly, with their surname and then their work title. It can be tricky to know which title to use when you first start, so either ask your boss directly how they like to be addressed or follow the lead of your colleagues. Also, be sure to say the polite “nín” (您) rather than the less formal “nǐ” (你) when referring to your boss as “you”.
A common way for colleagues to build trust in China is to give complements and demonstrate a common way of thinking. Be sure to praise your new boss and the company for their merits rather than picking out problems. React positively to any task you’re given and always appear happy to be at work, even if you’re secretly dying for your bed. The more positively you react to your boss and the job, the more positively he/she is likely to react to you and your work.
Honesty and modesty are very important in Chinese society, so if you do something wrong in the workplace, be sure to own up to it and apologize. Don’t just slink to your desk if you’re late or hope a mistake will go unnoticed. Being upfront and accountable will earn you trust and respect in the long run.
Chinese people typically work long hours, and overtime is part of the course. Whenever possible, go above and beyond for your job and show your boss and your Chinese colleagues that you’re pitching in and working hard. Never leave before your official hours are up without prior permission, and stay a little later when you can, just to show willing. When in work, try to complete your tasks as quickly and efficiently as possible, but always have a long list of new ones on hand so you’re never found idle.
Advice may well be welcomed by your Chinese boss, but be sure to offer it at the right time and place. While you might find Chinese people very direct about some things, such as talking about your weight or your pimples, they are generally not very direct when it comes to criticism in the workplace. Present your concerns delicately and in private. The most important thing in any Chinese relationship is the concept of ‘face’. Do not allow your boss to lose it on your account.
Be a ‘No Person’
If your Chinese boss makes a direct request of you, be sure to agree to do it right away. Your boss wants you to make their life easier, so be a “yes person” as much as possible and give their ideas a go, even if you don’t necessarily agree with them. Saying “no” to your boss is not the done thing in China, so avoid it whenever you can.
Miss the Signals
As stated above, Chinese people tend to communicate in a less than direct way in a work environment. It’s therefore essential that you keep an ear open for shrouded criticism. For example, if your boss calls a meeting in which he praises you, points out some flaws and then praises you again, it’s the flaws you need to pay attention to. You just got a Chinese-style dressing down!
Different people like things done different ways, but if you’re precious about your particular way of doing things, that’s not going to go down well in your new China job. Chinese society is all about fitting in and working together, so go with the grain rather than against it and don’t sweat the small stuff.
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Keywords: Chinese superior do’s and don’ts Chinese boss tips
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If you intend to live and work in China for quite some time and have a Chinese boss--good luck and God bless. I am, thankfully, able to honor my contract here and leave China in January 2019, which will make three years for me. Some observations, vice my Chinese boss, a PhD, Henry James scholar and the rudest person I've ever met: 1. He fell asleep thirty seconds into a keynote lecture that I gave in fall 2016 and only woke up when the Guest of Honor walked over and shook his shoulders. The Guest of Honor was Chinese, also, and all 600+ people in the university lecture hall were Chinese, except for me (I'm Irish). 2. He is as much a narcissist as Donald Trump (I thought that would be impossible but nothing is stranger than the truth). Any conversation on literature is one that he immediately turns into, "And this is why Freud is correct." God forbid you are not a Freudian, and God forbid you quote Joseph Campbell or any other writer . . . except for Henry James, of course. 3. He is gay and in the way of gay Chinese men, as I have noticed on the street, he is very proud of his homosexuality and eager to attempt to convert any straight man in his presence. And man, does he get pissed off when you tell him, "Converting to gayness is not part of my contract. I enjoy the company of women." 4. He turns any situation into "Now don't make me lose face, I am the BOSS and I am always right and I will now bait you into making me lose face." The only way to respond to his "face-baiting" is to smile and say nothing--remember, in China, silence is more than golden, silence is an accepted way of responding to any situation in China. 5. He hates IDEAS--quite strange for a PhD but not strange for a PhD in China, apparently. He berated me for teaching proverbs from Confucius, Joseph Campbell, Bruce Lee, Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and also, Zen Buddhist proverbs, to the freshmen and sophomore English majors here--meditations on honor, integrity, justice and love, which I'd had great success with in university classrooms in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Thailand--because, in his words, "our Chinese students here are not capable of intellectual discussion, they must only learn how to order food and get directions to train stations, our students have a low intellectual level." Yet my students had translated those proverbs from English into Chinese and then spoken with clarity and vigor about what those proverbs meant to them. They already knew how to order food and give directions in English, when I first evaluated them at the beginning of that term. 6. He forced the freshmen students to perform a "SpongeBob Squarepants" song and dance, basically for his entertainment, and graded them for their "intellectual performance and ability to understand Western Culture." When the Chinese teachers took him aside after the farce and told him that Spongebob Squarepants is a learning tool for kindergarten children, he exploded and told them, "I am the boss! This is my department and the students will learn Western Culture my way!" We don't have a perfect society in Ireland but at least we do not teach Spongebob Squarepants in our universities. We do teach Yeats, of course, and we're not afraid of ideas at universities in Europe. 7. He never communicates. I mean, never. No worries, I'm gone in January 2019. Here's an example of his inability to communicate. He knew a month ago that the sophomore students were going to hold a Debate Night two weeks ago. He did not tell any of the faculty until an hour before the event, when he sent out a mass WeChat message that said, "It's Debate Night! You will attend the Debate Night. Main Auditorium, 7 p.m. Attendance is mandatory." Fortunately, I had my phone off and simply told him the next day, "I was hitting the heavy bag at the gym (which I was) and had my phone off. Sorry about that. Perhaps next year." He gave me the wanna-be tough guy look and stormed off. The Chinese teachers put up with his nonsense because their lives and their careers are centered here. Perhaps to the Chinese, also, it's OK for the boss to be flat-out rude--the old, "The Emperor Can Do No Wrong" thinking, which has prevailed here for over 5,000 years, which is to say it is in the cultural DNA and accepted behavior in China, at least it certainly is if you are Chinese. This is a culture that worships submission, bottom-line. Mao changed a lot and much of it for the better but the "Culture of Submission" is likely one that China will be, forever. I have learned something very valuable here that makes it easy to leave: China is a great country for the Chinese. It is not a culture that welcomes inclusiveness. You will submit and you will obey, or you will walk the plank. Looking forward to European vistas and Irish skies and no more Spongebob Squarepants in a university lecture hall. Working for a Chinese boss who could not survive one seminar at a British or Irish university--he would be laughed out of the lecture hall--is a waste of life. Time is too precious to waste teaching English at a Chinese university.
Jun 20, 2018 19:55 Report Abuse
From personal experience, I would say that this article is fairly correct. Would following the Chinese work etiquette make you a bootlicker by the western standard? Probably. But perhaps a more important question is: Would following the western standard in China make you seem like a problematic employee?
Nov 22, 2017 09:18 Report Abuse