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Chinese Culture: Styles of Communication

Although China is fastly modernizing, there are still vast differences in the ways in which Chinese interact with Western people and the world at large. The key function of Chinese communication strategy boils down to maintaining existing relationships between individuals while emphasizing and adhering to status and role differences, with the ultimate aim being to preserve harmony within the group.

Geert Hofstede Analysis for China

Geert Hofstede analysis for China is similar to Hong Kong’s, with long-term orientation being the highest ranking factor. China ranks the lowest compared to other Asian countries n the factor of individualism which is greatly attributed to the Communist rule which reiterated on the collective culture. The high long-term orientation ranking is an indication of the society’s attitude of perseverance and time perspective, meaning they overcome challenges with time, if not by strength and will.

China ranking lowest in the individualism factor is mainly attributed to the high level of a collective society by the communist rule. The low individualism ranking manifests that Chinese value being a member and close to a group, be it a family, extended family, or extended relationships. China thrills in stronger relationships where each and everyone is taking responsibilities of their group and loyalty is quite important. Chinese like to successfully integrate with others and conflict must at all cost be avoided. Communication in China should strengthen relationships and not challenge them.

China also has significantly high power distance which is a clear indication of the high level of inequality in wealth and power within the society. It’s important to note that this condition is willingly accepted by the society as their cultural heritage and not necessarily forced upon them.

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Nonverbal Communication in China

Nonverbal communication includes facial expression, eye contact, gestures, and tone of voice. This plays such a vital role in our day-to-day life and at some point, it’s even more powerful than the verbal communication. Different nationalities have their specific emotions and gestures that have a different meaning. It’s imperative to understand the basics of nonverbal communication since they might mean something totally different in another culture.

China is one of the largest countries in the world, and it’s where civilization and ancient culture was born. Since the Chinese are greatly influenced by Confucius’s philosophical thinking, they’re more reserved and their gestures less expressive. However, non-verbal communication in Chinese speaks volumes. The Chinese greatly advocate for peace and collectiveness, and they rely on tonal voice, facial expression, and posture to know how the person is feeling. Frowning when someone is speaking can be viewed as a way of disagreement hence the Chinese try and maintain quite an impassive expression during the speech. It is also disrespectful to be staring into another person’s eyes and in crowded scenarios the Chinese shun eye contact to provide some privacy to themselves.

Non-Verbal Communication

Gestures

Polite nods are common when greeting someone but due to the restrained style, the gestures are not as frequent. Unlike in the United States, pointing is done with the entire hand rather than one finger.

Touching

The Chinese people prefer not to be touched, but it is accepted in public places when not avoidable. With the same gender and close friendship, there can be touching, and women can hold hands and walk arm in arm. Young couples in cities like Beijing are often affectionate in public, which is a change from previous generations.

Space

Minimal physical contact is much preferred but in the public area, it is accepted that crowds force people close together leaving no personal space. In private, formal recognition of space is the norm, particularly for the elderly who are treated with reverence.

Chinese Communication Style

Chinese may consider the Westerners to be upfront in their manner of speaking. This often causes a lot of misunderstanding or sometimes even hurt feelings of some Chinese people, especially if they are very sensitive. The Chinese people value a slower, less aggressive approach, and would prefer to slowly conceptualize an idea before commenting on it. Some of the preferred Chinese communication styles include:

Indirect Communication

Chinese communicate in a way that you need to read between the lines to get to know what exactly they imply. Westerners are encouraged to defend their ideas which may even lead to a confrontation or debate for the purpose of getting the other person to agree with their way of thinking. The Chinese people would in such a scenario just nod on your opinion even if they don’t agree with what you are saying. They do this to honor and respect other’s opinion since being too direct may be perceived as humiliating, and the other person may come across as rude. Blunt communication makes Chinese quite uncomfortable, so they prefer the subtle, indirect ways of delivering their opinions and thoughts.

High Context

In China, background information is assumed depending on the nature of the relationship. When developing a relationship with the Chinese, no topic is actually off limits from what business you are in and how much money you make to family life. The Chinese value relationships and networking are highly regarded, especially in the business world, commonly referred to as guanxi. They value building a relationship first before doing business.

Formal

Never forget that you should communicate officially, especially when communicating with individuals at the highest on the hierarchy. Informally treating them before their peers would probably ruin a prospective deal. Chinese people also prefer one-on-one meetings rather than telephone or written communication.

Restrained

The Chinese are cultured to avoid the display of emotions. It is also very hard for a Chinese person to say no, hence they would give you an impression of maybe when they are not sure that they will deliver but never out rightly let you know. It’s all about saving face and remaining loyal.

Factors Affecting The Way Chinese Communicate

The Chinese culture has complex communication patterns. Movement of body parts, facial expressions or even the style of dress affects how Chinese communicate and how a person from other culture responds to them. For Westerners, the Chinese appear to be humble and reserved, so much concerned about their image that they tend to avoid in all possibilities the discomfort of being embarrassed or humiliated. To understand why Chinese behave and talk the way they do, it is paramount that we understand the factors that affect how they communicate. They include:

Tonal language

Chinese has its syllabic structure and phonemics that differ from other cultures language, so when they try to speak a foreign language such as English, they will give a different tone and pronunciation (unless they are very skilled in English).

Typological Differences

China has their way of organizing ideas, connecting facts or even stressing points. Moreover, their language has no distinction between plural or singular forms. Thus, when translated to foreign language, they would appear absurd, blank, or unrelated.

Early Education for Children.

Young children are early nurtured to include others in their conversations by avoiding talking too much about themselves. Also, they are taught to be cooperative and humble. Teachers would make a choral presentation in nursery schools instead of requiring students to do recitals on their own. This attitude is expected to be brought into their adult’s lives.

When trying to adapt to a more interrelated world, it is imperative to know how the Chinese communicate and think. Although the language style in China might seem complicated, it is important to choose the correct style of communication. For the Chinese, communication is more than the exchange of just words. It is more about establishing harmony and building a relationship with the community.

Chinese Culture: Styles of Communication
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