Chinese bosses have been alternately characterized as authoritarians and as consensus people. Heavy-handed and soft. That is in part because there are different kinds of bosses, and in part because Chinese culture can throw off our sense of what kind of a person we are dealing with. Customs differ from culture to culture and the workplace is no exception. Foreign and Chinese business practices have their differences and office cultures do too. If you are working for a Chinese company you will need to know how to have a good relationship with your employer.
Knowing how to deal with your higher-ups will greatly impact your success at work, and some of the same principles apply to building beneficial relationships with your coworkers as well. Learning how to successful interact with authority in the workplace also helps you handle the other powers that be; knowing how to handle your boss will help you when it comes to dealing with the Public Security Bureau and other occasionally troublesome bureaucrats. Learning a few workplace norms in China is a necessity for advancing in a company. These 5 tips will earn you some respect, and at the very least, should keep you from getting fired.
Here are five strategies for dealing with authority in the Chinese office:
1) Know your place
Hierarchy is respected in public as well as in private life throughout the country. The subordinate respects the superior. If you're dealing with a direct superior in a Chinese company, or with a governing official, be sure to show them the respect due. Giving advice is often welcomed, but to criticize them in front of others causes a massive loss of face. Face is everything. You might naturally have some valid complaints, but save it for a private meeting. Try to avoid being too direct. While Chinese people may seem overly blunt when it comes to your weight or your pimples, you’ll have better results if your suggestions are presented cautiously and carefully.
2) Show respect
Another way to show respect, and maintain a hospitable relationship, is to address your Chinese superiors with the proper titles. The titles typically go after the family name. A few examples are as follows:
Manager: Jingli or zong jingli (the latter, which means head manager, can be shortened to zong)
Vice manager: Fu jingli or fuzong jingli (can be shortened to fuzong)
CEO: Shouxi zhixingguan
Department head: Buzhang
Director or chairman: Zhuren
School principal: Xiaozhang
Factory director: Changzhang
If you’re speaking in Chinese you can change the word for “you” from ni to nin to show respect.
3) Parse properly
If you want to understand what your boss thinks of your work or your ideas, be careful to discern the criticism from the praise. In China they are often mixed together. For example, if he generally praises your project, then points out some flaws, and then praises you again, he might have just torn you to pieces. Granted, the indirect communication can take years to learn, but even if you haven't had much experience with Chinese culture, keep in mind that most employers and workmates will communicate with less directness than you're used to. If you are really in doubt as to what has been said, ask a few follow-up questions. Don’t expect straight answers to questions, especially difficult ones, and try to avoid being too direct yourself. People will clam up and you won’t get very far. Try to cultivate “passive assertiveness”.
4) Work it
Chinese workers and employers respect hard work. Even if they've finished the tasks for the day, most will quickly attend to tasks for the following day. They frequently work overtime. If you drift too far from this ethic in the Chinese workplace, it makes you look bad in nearly everyone's eyes. Showing your boss and officemates that you keep busy, will help to give you a solid standing. This is especially important given that your Chinese coworkers, and even managers, are probably aware that you make far more then they do.
5) Take it outside
Chinese often talk business outside of the workplace. While it's not the most relaxing habit, it can still come in handy for you. If your boss invites you to have a meal or a drink on your off-time, it might be a great opportunity to express your own ideas to her. In fact, her ears might be more open than usual.
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Very pleased to find this site. I wanted to thank you for this great read! Thanks for taking the time to share this.
Aug 25, 2011 06:17 Report Abuse
The idea that workers should be subservient and groveling to bosses strikes me as completely antithetical to everything socialism and even communism stands for, especially the whole class stratification. For a country that claims to be communist, this attitude toward workers would make Karl Marx spin in his grave.
Aug 15, 2011 14:10 Report Abuse
The criticism in China - yep, you actually never know what opinion is true. They praise you - probably out of politeness. They criticize you moderately, mixing the good and the bad - probably "tear you to pieces". Interestingly, those Chinese who pick up some Western customs sometimes get the wrong idea that in the West we just always say exactly what we think, so they will criticize extremely directly, with no regard for the feelings of the person criticized.
Jul 18, 2011 19:37 Report Abuse
The last thing we need around here is bunch of cowering foreigners.
Your boss will probably think you are here because you are one of the losers, who couldn't make it in your own country.
Foreign workers can refuse to be exploited like domestic help.
If you are a foreigner, act like one!
Jul 17, 2011 15:49 Report Abuse
"The last thing we need around here is bunch of cowering foreigners. Your boss will probably think you are here because you are one of the losers, who couldn't make it in your own country. Foreign workers can refuse to be exploited like domestic help. If you are a foreigner, act like one"
after 7 years in china i can only say this is the best comment in this thread. foreigners are not payed to work like a native, uneficcient and slow.
Jun 07, 2012 23:25 Report Abuse
Thank you for this comment, I agree totally! Thanks for cheering for our side! I hope I don't sound to selfish or resistant - although I know that being diplomatic and respecting my adopted country and culture is important, having self-respect is also required to survive this experience! Plus, is it really necessary to lose all of ourselves just for a job experience? It is important to realize that not only are we questioned and thought of as foreigners that couldn't make it in our own countries of golden opportunity, but on the contrary, many of us were actually brought here specifically to help infuse a company with our much needed foreign qualities and expertise, so how can we do both? To be prominent and influential and at the same time subservient, and lose ourselves and submerge into their customs ? We have to keep our back bone stiff while interacting and representing who we are. Of course being polite is so important, but coming here just to play kiss up to keep the boss's ego intact, hmmm I don't remember seeing that in the job description or the contract!
Sep 01, 2012 05:53 Report Abuse
I certainly agree with you. The foreigners which have high paid jobs and an important role in the company hey work should behave like you said. However, not all foreign people in China are professionals (including me). We have, like we would back in our homecountry, to start low and follow the rules of this article to go far in our work. Certainly, by doing this we cannot abandon our traditions and characteristics, but we should control them.
Jun 12, 2014 18:42 Report Abuse
As unappeaing and annoying as it can seem, I find being passive aggressive goes a really long way in China in getting your message across and avoiding conflict. Much of it seems amazingly inefficient but if you study how Chinese interact you see there is a ton of unsaid communication and that's were a lot of the meaningful transactions take place. Once you have faith your unsaid messages are being received it gets much easier.
May 04, 2010 19:13 Report Abuse