Adapting To Working In China

  • Post by Tony
  • August 26, 2015

 

One of the biggest issues to deal with when moving is finding a way to support yourself financially. In China, ‘guanxi’- or networking- is king. Having a professional LinkedIn and Facebook presence will help you build your connections online. There are some online Chinese employment search engines such as 51jobs.com, zhaopin.com, and chinaHR.com which have English versions available. However, it is still recommended to get your resume translated to simplified Chinese and submit both language versions.

Like in the Western world, most job opportunities are not posted anywhere. And nothing beats face to face interactions. So if you are serious about finding a job the best way to procure the job you want is by making true connections with people and developing trust. Having a business card, again with English and simplified Chinese, that you can hand to the people you meet will help.

Chinese Work Environment

As you might suspect, Chinese vs. Western work cultures are very different.

In America, and most other Western atmospheres, when given a project the manager will likely give only an overview of what is to be completed: general guidelines and the end goal of what is expected to be accomplished. From there, the people working on the project will have to overcome the obstacles that come along and problem solve almost entirely on their own. The manager may only receive progress reports and judge the final product.

There’s a stark contrast in China. Managers are what most foreigners would refer to as micromanaging. A general overview would not be the only thing provided. Not at all. Instead, the managers would outline step by step how the work is to be completed. Checking in consistently to ensure the task is on track. With this, problems during the tasks are not likely to be communicated upwards. As it is likely the manager- by virtue of micromanaging- will be in the know as problems arise.

In addition to the emphasis placed on guanxi, the principle of saving face is also very important. In China, offering your own opinion is not expected, it’s unwelcome- borderline disrespectful. The Chinese generally avoid confrontation at all costs. Calling attention to indiscretions, errors, or emotions that would cause themselves or others to ‘lose face’ is generally unacceptable. The complexities that saving face brings with it often bewilder expats. It doesn’t help that the principles that govern communication in the workplace operate in a constant gray area: based on a situational rather than clear cut basis.

Cultural Context

Another thing to be mindful of is what’s called ‘cultural context.’ China is considered a high-context culture. In a culture like China, many things are simply assumed and left unsaid, leaving the words that are spoken to have a much greater meaning. From a logical standpoint this makes sense; Asian cultures are, for the most part, less diverse, allowing common history, experiences, and backgrounds to speak instead of words. In the workplace, things like seating arrangements during a meeting, gestures, even posture will all convey a strong message.

High and Low context Cultures
A simple graph showing the differences between high and low context cultures.

Along with a high-context culture, comes an emphasis on small closely knit groups. The expectation is that the members of the group will develop intimate relationships, and because of this put the group’s needs ahead of their individual desires.

Work Environment Shaped by Religion

Confucianism as well as Taoism, China’s two most prominent religions both play a significant role in the work place. Instead of being mutually exclusive, both of these religions have found a way to coexist in Chinese culture- the work place included.

Confucianism and Working in China
The two major religions, Taoism and Confucianism play a major role in the work environment and Chinese culture in general.

Confucianism emphasizes personal conduct. With Confucianism comes the value of a devout respect for family and elders as well as finding your place in the social order. This translates into the workplace by respecting the hierarchy and your position in it- and the associated responsibilities. Confucianism also places an emphasis on interdependent relationships.

Taoism in the work place is slightly more abstract. In general Taoism deals with the human interaction with nature. This factors into the feng shui of a building or office that is orientated in the best way so as to be harmonious with nature.

Adaptability is the Name of the Game

As with moving to any new culture being able to adapt to China’s culture is essential. Keeping an open mind and attempting to see from a different prospective- probably one you’ve never attempted to see before- will go a long ways.

Out of all the countries to move and adapt to, China may be the hardest for Westerners. It is important to remember that you will likely make mistakes, however, when you do get it right, it will be much more rewarding. And Chinese people, for the most part, will be forgiving when you make a mistake if they sense you are trying.

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