This is the third and final part of a three part series of posts by Jason Patent, a China market access consultant with years of on the ground experience and all sorts of degrees from top schools (including a Ph.D from Berkeley) that qualify him to discuss how Chinese culture is likely to impact your doing business with China. Jason’s first post is here and his second is here.
Here is his third:
Human beings stereotype. It’s part of our wiring. There’s no getting around it.
In China you will be dealing with your own stereotypes of Chinese people. You could either pretend they’re not there and have them sink your business, or you can acknowledge them and re-frame them into more positive ways of thinking. It’s up to you.
Here are 9 common stereotypes you’re likely to have in whole or in part, and ways to re-frame them:
1. The Chinese are out to cheat me.
China has been through a lot of tough history, over thousands of years and even up to very recent times. Chinese people have had to make tough choices in a world of scarcity. This mentality has been passed down through the generations. No Chinese does anything a Westerner wouldn’t do if fighting for survival.
The upshot: Cross your T’s and dot your I’s. Be prudent, not paranoid.
2. The Chinese think they’re superior.
The Chinese are legitimately proud of their amazing cultural accomplishments. Think of the food, the monuments, the language, and on and on. Chinese give respect where it’s due: to Westerners for their advanced technology and social institutions, and to themselves for what they’ve done.
The upshot: Allow yourself to admire what there is to admire, while keeping your cool.
3. The Chinese lie.
People from every culture lie. What Westerners call “lying” in China is often just a more subtle form of communication than we’re used to. China is what’s known as a “high context” culture: information is assumed to be in the background — the context. The more you learn about the assumed context, the better you’ll get at seeing the meaning behind the words.
The upshot: Get trained on Chinese communication style. Learn as much as you can about the Chinese mindset, so that you know what background assumptions people bring to the conversation.
4. The Chinese go back on their word.
Shaped for millennia by a fickle, resource-poor environment rife with natural disasters, the Chinese see the world as constantly in flux. Circumstances change, and it’s foolish to set a plan in stone now for an imagined future, when it might not be a fit for the actual future. It’s best to remain adaptable and flexible.
The upshot: Be ready for your counterparts to ask for changes to contracts. Understand that in China the contract is often seen as the beginning of a relationship, not a fixed definition of reality.
5. The Chinese are always stalling for time.
Like any business counterpart anywhere in the world, the Chinese have strategies for getting what they want. A common one is to use home court to their advantage. It’s easier on the Chinese if things take longer than it is on you.
Upshot: Be ready and set reasonable expectations that things probably aren’t going to happen quickly.
6. The Chinese are stingy.
The Chinese are thrifty. Again, over millennia the Chinese have often had to scrape together meager livings out of a hostile, overcrowded environment. Every resource is precious, and could disappear at a moment’s notice if not carefully guarded.
The upshot: Negotiation is not viewed as a win–win proposition. Be thrifty with your resources too, and meet the Chinese on their own zero-sum terms.
7. The Chinese don’t care about quality.
Everyone cares about quality. But when it comes to priorities, sometimes it’s more important to the Chinese to save some resources than to make something that fits Westerners’ high standards. See above about precious resources.
The upshot: Be fastidious and unrelenting in your QC. Get feet on the street and keep them there.
8. The Chinese don’t care about their environment.
The world of the average Chinese person is relatively small. People are focused — narrowly, from a prosperous Western perspective — on day-to-day concerns like having enough to eat and a roof over their heads. It might be nice to have a cleaner environment, but for many Chinese that’s a luxury.
The upshot: Instead of complaining about the awful air, imagine what it would be like if you didn’t get to leave it in a week or two.
9. The Chinese hate Westerners.
In fact Westerners are much admired in China. What Westerners perceive as “hatred” is usually more a vague sense of suspicion. Like everything else, this results from the thought habits of the past, especially the past century and a half, which saw Westerners exploit and mistreat China. All this means is that you have to earn their trust.
The upshot: Behave in a way that is worthy of trust, and trust will come. With time.
Categories can be useful. Reasoned, informed judgment can be useful. Stereotypes have zero business value. Get savvy about your own stereotypes and re-frame them. Not only will you feel better and get along better, but your business will do better.