Office Space: 6 Ways to Connect with your Chinese Colleagues

Office Space: 6 Ways to Connect with your Chinese Colleagues
Nov 17, 2015 By Trey Archer ,

If you’re an expat, chances are you’re working here. And even if you’re in a predominately foreign office (as I am), you’re still most likely going to have at least one Chinese coworker (as I do). Yes, there will be culture differences, and yes, the office politics will be different from what you’re used to back home, but that shouldn’t stop you from having a positive experience. Here are some common grievances I hear from fellow expats regarding their local colleagues, followed by some advice on what to do.

1) "My Colleagues Freak Out When I Tell Them They’re Not Doing their Job Properly!"
The concept of face is extremely important in Chinese culture. If you cause someone to lose face, i.e. call them out for being wrong, make them look stupid, or simply tell them that they’re not doing the right job, they will most certainly lose face and be ashamed.

A good way to combat this is to refrain from correcting coworkers in front of others. My friend (a foreigner who manages many Chinese) said sending emails with precise instructions works well to avoid direct confrontation. If that doesn’t slice it, sit down with them in private and say with a calm voice that management prefers they do this instead of that.

2) "Why don’t my coworkers like me! Why???"
There could be a million answers for this one, but in my seven years’ experience living in this country, I can tell you that if you’re having this problem and are a genuinely good person, it might be because you just complain too much – specifically about China.

A favorite past time amongst expats is criticizing China. It's easy to groan about the pollution, the spitting, the burping, the slurping, the shouting, the pushing, the traffic, and the censorship. Sure, there might be a few annoyances from a Westerner’s perspective, but your local friends certainly don’t want you to rub it in their faces. Would you want them do the same to you in your country?

3) "Oh my god I hate my boss!"
Don’t worry, even my local friends complain about their Chinese bosses! The stereotypical Chinese boss can be pretty intimidating, and due to the hierarchical structured society that China and many other East Asian countries have, the Chinese boss in his eyes is always right and overbearing.
It might be best to just do what he or she says and not ask too many questions. It also goes without saying to never, under any circumstance, make him or her lose face, especially in front of subordinates. Now, there are certainly cool and progressive Chinese bosses out there, but if you get stuck with the stereotypical one and just can’t handle it, then I’d highly recommend finding a new job.

4) "No one in my office can take a compliment! It’s super annoying!"
Chinese people are very passive and modest in many ways. They do indeed take a lot of pride in their work, but because of their modesty, they don’t want to be praised out in public for a job well done.
If one of your colleagues is exceptional, it’s still good to let them know it and show that you’re appreciative. However, after praising them, just realize they may accept the compliment with their head down in silence. Don’t let this discourage you, though.  Go ahead and send them an email or tell them privately in person.

5) "I just really don’t have much in common with the local staff."
It might be true that you don’t have much in common with the other staff, but have you ever realized you probably didn’t get along with every single person at your old job either? True, there are culture differences, but as mentioned, many Chinese are shy, especially with foreigners.

To be honest, you are probably going to have to be the one who initiates a relationship. Go have lunch with them on lunch breaks, or even dinner after work. Take advantage of team building activities, birthdays, or other activities outside the office as a more informal way of connecting with them. You can also use language as a tool – practice your Chinese with them, and have them practice English with you. There are many ways to connect with your coworkers, so get creative and put a little effort into it.

6) "I’ve tried everything and it just doesn’t work!"
There’s one last trick – the almighty smile. You’d be surprised how far a smile can go. It’s universal and has no cultural barriers. Try using a warm smile as a complement to all these other points mentioned. But if nothing else works and you still just don’t get along with your Chinese colleagues, a smile to at least keep things tame and civil; it might save you from hating your job!

As you can see, there are many cultural differences between the West and China, especially within the office. At the end of the day, we are all people, and every individual is different from the next regardless of race, religion or nationality, so definitely keep that in mind before jumping to any conclusions on your first day at a new job.

If you have any other positive tips that you would like to share on how to connect with your Chinese colleagues, please feel free to list them in the comment section.

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Keywords: Chinese coworkers advice Chinese colleagues tips


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Speaking Chinese is a great icebreaker and opens up a bridge between you and the rest of the office.

Nov 26, 2015 09:03 Report Abuse



Speaking Chinese is a great icebreaker and opens up a bridge between you and the rest of the office.

Nov 26, 2015 09:03 Report Abuse



"......but because of their modesty, they don’t want to be praised out in public for a job well done." And you believe that? That is what they tell you to save face. The real reason is because they know how envy, including themselves, chinese are of others' success, how far they would go and how long they can wait to destroy it. But it is perfectly fine for them to brag about anything to put someone down.

Nov 26, 2015 08:36 Report Abuse



but for me, I would rather disconnect from them in office, how to ?

Nov 24, 2015 12:08 Report Abuse



I'd just like to point out that they don't exactly think of foreigners as their colleagues. That would imply that they are equally educated and qualified for the job, which the majority of foreigners are not. Calling yourself a teacher because you speak English, or a chef because you can microwave your food doesn't make it true. The Chinese people aren't naive.

Nov 23, 2015 06:59 Report Abuse



Most, if not all the English teachers are LBH (Losers Back Home). The failed in their home country therefore they came here to start over. They can't find a job or girlfriend and expect to find both here. Many of the well educated females would not date them because they know they are losers who don't have money and are fat bald men.

Dec 13, 2015 13:41 Report Abuse



You don't need much to be qualified to teach English in China. You just need a bachelors degree, TEFL, and be Caucasian. Heck, if you're Caucasian, that's good enough, you don't need any other qualification.

Dec 13, 2015 13:48 Report Abuse



You guys need to make an honest effort to learn the language and culture of China. Too many foreigners come to China and think it should be like the west. It's not going to happen.

Nov 22, 2015 16:33 Report Abuse




Nov 25, 2015 19:40 Report Abuse



Speak Chinese.

Nov 21, 2015 17:32 Report Abuse



I agree. I quit my last job because of #3. One of my co-workers mother died, so she asked to take leave to go home for the funeral. The Hongkong boss said, "No, that is not important enough. If you go, you will be fired and we will not pay you your due salary." I ended up having issues with this person myself. It was kinda weird how unsociable she was, it was as if she was an autistic kid that hated moving her face and likes speaking to large crowds of people that can't understand her language. I would hate to be such a person. How lonely it must be.

Nov 18, 2015 07:32 Report Abuse



Health related issues including death of a family is the de facto reason to get out of a situation in china, often permanently with a job. Ever notice the number of prisoners released from jail under medical grounds, from political prisoners to corrupted CCP members? This is something every local knows about and applies personally, something as common as taking a bus. Who with one look knows what that worker is up to, you, the boss? When you have the same amount of experience she has in dealing with mainlanders you may just do the same.

Nov 26, 2015 07:59 Report Abuse



The employee in question is not Chinese. She is a Westerner. He mother did die, and she is still upset about five months later.

Nov 26, 2015 09:01 Report Abuse



In that case I go with you. Perhaps the boss was in china too long she forgot the differences. A workaround, did your friend ask for an unpaid leave?

Nov 26, 2015 09:05 Report Abuse



Yeah, she wanted to go and be able to come back to work.

Nov 26, 2015 18:10 Report Abuse



I guess it depends if you come to china to do your job in a manner that will benefit your life, as any professional does...or if you come to china to learn how to become chinese....if you are here to do the later, it means you will lose face because you have accepted subordination to an identity which is not your own and so the chinese gain face....Most come out of a curiosity and the chinese kind of probe their interests.

Nov 17, 2015 09:36 Report Abuse