5 Ways Working in China has Changed My Work Style

5 Ways Working in China has Changed My Work Style
Jun 09, 2020 By Lewis Schwinn , eChinacities.com

Working in China can be frustrating and difficult. A convoluted ever-changing visa system, language barriers, and culture shock are just a few of the initial challenges foreign workers face upon entering the Chinese workplace. And it only gets harder from there. However, despite these challenges, working in China has taught me several valuable lessons and changed my work style forever. Here’s how.

Ive become more gently persistent 

A time-honored Chinese strategy for conflict resolution is deflection and redirection. If you walk into an office and ask someone to do something, many times the response will be, “Oh sure, let me check with so-and-so and get back to you.” Then time will pass. Then some more time will pass. Finally, you will return and ask about the status of your request only to hear one of the following:

“Oh, I forgot. Let me check again.”
“Ah, they are checking with someone else. I’ll let you know when they tell me.”
“They said our department doesn’t handle that you should ask another department.”
“You never asked me for that.”

In a perfect world, you could react by throwing their desk out the window. Unfortunately, in the real world that is generally not an option. This process can be frustrating, but it has taught me three things:

1. Always take the initiative: never wait for someone to get back to you.
2. Be assertive: make it clear that you are going to be a big part of their life until they help you/do their job.
3. Smile: always be polite and pleasant while following steps 1-2.

Once it becomes clear that you are pleasant, present, and that you won’t take no for an answer, your would-be aggressor will generally relent and do what you ask. While the art of hiding in a bureaucracy is prevalent in China, the art of relentless polite pursuit is a valuable remedy.

2. Ive learnt the value of detailed record keeping

Referring back to the above scenario, what do you do when a colleague claims you never made a request of them in the first place? Flailing angrily and yelling expletives, while tempting, won’t help your case. This is where the paper trail comes in.

Always make sure that at least the first request and their response is logged in some form of written communication, whether in text or email. Checking in with them intermittently in person also helps, but you’ll always want to keep a steady record of events. This corporate savviness protects you from hazy verbal promises and helps keep your coworkers mindful of the tasks you’ve requested.

3. Ive learnt to back up any suggestions with research and data

Many people claim that saving face, the idea that public perception and respect are paramount, is a concept that dominates the Chinese workplace. This often stops employees speaking out about problems for fear of making their superiors loose face.There’s no denying face is a powerful force in a corporate setting, but it’s not absolute.

In my experience, Chinese bosses and colleagues are open to suggestions for improvements to work procedures or the working environment so long as you have compelling reasons for the suggestion, preferably backed up by some sort of data, research and cost analysis. These suggestions should also be stated with due deference and a pledge that you are willing to take take responsibility for following through on implementation if necessary.

Working in China has taught me to recognize and solve problems independently where possible, but also to make well thought-out suggestions to management if not. This has not only improved my work satisfaction and work life, but has also taught me the importance of voicing my opinion in a more logical and structured way.

4.  Ive learnt to recognize my worth and bargaining power

I have met many foreign workers who try to assimilate to Chinese working norms as closely as they can: working unpaid overtime, keeping silent on voicing concerns, doing free promotion, and allowing their work to be exploited or stolen. They do so out of fear of being fired. My answer to that is, so what if you do get fired?

This article has discussed the importance of being polite and logical in your complaints, but sometimes you must come out firmly against problems or working conditions that are unacceptable to you. China is massive, and therefore has a massive job market for foreigners, especially at the moment when many expats have left or are stuck outside the country.

While you always want to remain calm and civil, finding leverage to force your employer’s cooperation can be as easy as looking at your contract (for example, are they providing you with the nationally mandated health insurance?). If, after measured and sensible suggestions, they refuse to change or make concessions, finding a new job, regardless of your profession or nationality, is probably not going to be that hard.

Transferring your visa to another company, while annoying, is not an insurmountable obstacle if it means you’ll be happier in your work life. Working in China has taught me the importance of understanding my worth, my bargaining power, the job market, and how a well-timed job switch can improve your career immeasurably.

5. Ive learnt to wait out bad suggestions

My previous entries discussed the importance of polite confidence and, in certain situations, assertiveness. However, as the old saying goes, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. You might have an incompetent boss or you might be part of an incoherent corporate structure where polite suggestions or open defiance won’t help anything. In cases like these, you may be handed down new programs, strategies, or work procedures that make absolutely no sense.

Rather than getting annoyed and fighting against the new concept from the get-go, this is when you can use the system’s own inertia against it. Simply nod in the meeting when your superiors give you their new revolutionary (terrible) idea, and then forget all about it and watch it die in the cold. Most of the time there will be little to no follow through on the idea and, so long as you never directly oppose it, it will never be meaningfully implemented. Having the patience to wait out stupid proposals is one of the most important skills that working in China has taught me.

These are just a few ways working in China has changed my work style. No doubt it will continue to evolve the longer I stay here.

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Keywords: Working in China

9 Comments

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1

andybrocks2012
comment|78137|99083

be prepared to argue

Sep 24, 2020 09:26 Report Abuse

2

kenneth_taytc
comment|77852|1662630

What do I need to know about moving to China? A quick list of things to know before moving to China: #1 Don’t keep comparing China to your home country. China’s has own greatness and vibrant past. Come here with an open mind, you will enjoy it. #2 Living in China is very safe. As long as you don’t disturb others, you won’t be disturbed either. #3 Cost of living is very much affordable. RMB 5,000/month. #4 China is sooo big. Bigger than the USA. You will feel lost in no time. #5 Lots of delicious food in China, in every direction. :) You can grab a filling meal for RMB 15. #6 Making new friends in China is not very difficult. Point being, you have to take the initiative. The locals are willing to make friends; however, they are often shy. #7 If you wish to live here for a long time, you have to learn the Mandarin Chinese language. Learning Mandarin is quite difficult task, but totally worth it. #8 Don’t get into politics. You are coming to China to work, focus on work. Don’t forget to thank the local authorities for giving you this beautiful opportunity. #9 Download WeChat App. This is the most common messaging App in China. Virtually everyone has a WeChat account. #10 Don’t get into drugs. You will be caught, and prosecuted accordingly.

Sep 07, 2020 11:04 Report Abuse

3

Jobscina.com
comment|77535|1967343

Very interesting, thanks~

Jun 23, 2020 16:31 Report Abuse

4

Am8969811
comment|77512|1874120

Very nice thanks bro.

Jun 21, 2020 16:21 Report Abuse

5

andybrocks2012
comment|77487|99083

China taught you that, you musnt have known much before

Jun 18, 2020 10:42 Report Abuse

6

hasan.mustafay
comment|77471|1960719

Thanks Lewis, a very interesting reflection on work experience.

Jun 14, 2020 10:13 Report Abuse

7

Guest17475480
comment|77428|1941720

9ice

Jun 10, 2020 19:28 Report Abuse

8

sorrel
comment|77422|246226

Um, you seem to be suggesting that people were not doing these things already. Having worked in a business environment prior to my time in China, these were all common sense ways of managing things in the work-place - whatever country you worked in. China did not change my work style, as it seemed to surprise my colleagues there that i was extremely organised (without being anal), as it was a prerequisite working in a professional envornment. ECC please credit your audience with some sense, and ask your writers to be less patronising. Thank you.

Jun 09, 2020 18:49 Report Abuse

9

andybrocks2012
comment|78043|99083

agree

Sep 17, 2020 11:34 Report Abuse