Few years back, I was offered the opportunity to work in China. I excitedly grabbed it and spent more than four years demonstrating the perfect example of “Globalization”; belonging to an Indian company working from its China subsidiary for an American client. I was privileged to witness spectacular and vivid facets of Chinese culture and their tremendously supporting people. I carry unforgettable cherished memories and worthy lessons.
Here I am to share some of my observations which might help you in case you get a chance to visit or work here.
Following three points are applicable to all who are willing to work in China or work with Chinese either for short-term or long-term. We are not good at Mandarin – probably illiterate – and they are still learning English and we have to work together. I’ve seen how determined they are for improving their proficiency in English language. It is just a matter of days when English would no more be an alien language to them.
1) Speak slowly
Now is the time to give a little pause in your speech. The mantra is; “speak slower than your normal pace”. Those who have got some exposure to the western culture and languages are very comfortable with English. But, rest others are still striving a bit to catch up with the language. So, be mindful for selecting the easiest possible words and give a pause between your words.
2) Repeat yourself and keep asking whether they understood
Many times, they might hesitate to interrupt you or ask you to repeat in case they don’t understand. So, if you are explaining them something, make sure you repeat your sentences frequently and ask them again and again whether they understood you clearly. Preferably, make use of white boards or chats to write down the words which you think might be difficult for them to understand.
3) Schedule meeting for longer time slot
If you are scheduling meeting with Chinese associates and not sure for their command over the language, then scheduling meetings for a longer time slot would be advantageous on the account of above two points.
Next few points discuss their work culture that you should not ignore at any cost. The Chinese work culture is customarily based on the “leader-follower” model where followers are least likely to discuss or challenge their leader’s opinion. This may be because they trust and adore their leaders to a great extent. Thus, in order to respect their beliefs and sentiments, keep below points in your mind.
4) Follow hierarchy in the organization
Chinese associates might get offended if they are questioned by a person having much lower designation than his. Rather than approaching directly to some higher authority, it is advisable to communicate with your immediate manager first.
5) Beware of asking direct questions to your boss
Be careful when you probing questions to your boss. You might be tagged as an ‘aggressive’ person. Be extremely diligent while picking your tone, wordings and the moment. It should not sound as if you are challenging them. I have done this mistake couple of times. One of them is when I had put my concerns in one meeting something like this, “… I am sorry but I am still not convinced that this is achievable as it has huge impact on back-end systems.” I could not even complete the sentence and I found myself under the rage of my manager because the solution was proposed by my manager himself. I still think that I should have articulated the same view in a different manner, may be in more polite form and at different forum. Well, I already had my lesson learned.
The remaining points of this article will help you not only in the office environment but also in the social environment. It is everything about how you communicate with the natives.
6) Learn their language
It is said that “if you talk with someone in your own language, you touch their mind, but if you talk in their language, you touch their soul”. So, if you are planning to stay for a longer time, say more than a year or so, try to learn the language. I can tell you learning Mandarin is not everybody’s cup of tea (I have had a great difficulty in dealing with the language), but not impossible though. At least try to get familiar with the common words like Hello, Thank You, Excuse me, etc. Many websites are there to help you, e.g. http://mandarin.about.com/. It would be considered polite if you words such as Hello (Ni hao) and Thank you (She-Shie) frequently.
7) Carry a copy of important addresses translated into Chinese
Don’t forget to carry the essential Chinese addresses such as your home, office, shopping malls, and other visiting places, etc. Even if you try to pronounce them in your own way, forget it, nobody will understand. I remember that even after three years of my stay, I needed to iterate my addresses at least in 2 to 3 different ways to make the taxi driver understand. And when nothing worked out, I had to take support of translated copies.
8) Carry friends’ number for emergency
This definitely should be handy to you. Some native friends’ numbers who are cognizant with the English language in case you need to take their help in need. I kept bugging my friends even at night “Hi Mike, I am in the hospital. Can you please explain the doctor that I’ve got a headache.”. I know it sounds funny, but this is how I survived most of the time. Also, thanks to Google and other translation tools which come as a life-saver to people like us. Google translate had become my best companion when I was in China.
9) Don’t take it personally when you see them laugh at you
If you are a foreigner in China, you’ll be the victim of everyone’s gaze. They will stare at you wherever you go probably because you look differently, speak differently and behave differently. On many occasions, such as explaining them something in English, you may find yourself a source of amusement for them. In the beginning, I was little embarrassed, but later I realized that their intention is not to make fun of you. They just get overwhelmed in such situations. So, considering their innocent intention, forget the embarrassment and enjoy the attention.
10) Fraternize with the locals
It is quite obvious to feel left out in an alien country, especially if the country is a complete non-English speaking one. Find some friends who you think you can hang out with. Try to understand their culture, their mind set, and their habits. China is blessed with scenic beauty. Spend time in traveling and exploring the splendid places if time permits.
11) Be ready to bid adieu to your social networking sites
Here comes one sad news for aliens that the social networking sites such as Facebook, Google+, YouTube, Gmail etc. are not accessible here for some reasonable political reasons. Although you can access these via some VPNs, but you might tend to give up after some days because of security risk, unavailability, and comparatively higher cost. But the good news is, you can still access Linkedin, Outlook, and their very own sites such as Baidu.com, an alternative to Google.com, Youku.com as Youtube.com’s alternative, and many others.
After spending more than three graceful years in China, I consider it my second home. People here are so warm-hearted, ambitious, assiduous, and intellectual that days are not far when China will soon be considered one of the super-powers of the world.
Image: 9comeback from freedigitalphotos.net
Shweta Kumari Sharma
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