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China workplace do's and don'ts
Life in China
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Topics To Avoid At Work In China

Being politically correct in your own country is hard enough as it is. Fly across the world and what do you think you’ll experience? Every place has appropriate workplace do’s and don’t. This guide will walk you through the minefield of Chinese offices.

1. Stop, Ask and Listen

When speaking with your Chinese colleagues, it’s important not to try and overshadow them. Ask about their opinions, listen and give them time to answer at their own pace. You want to build respect as it shows you care about their views and also will make you understand them better and their perspectives.

2. Context Matters

Take time to understand the context in which your colleagues are most comfortable. For instance, if you ask a question during lunch with lots of other coworkers, and you do not get the level of openness you expected, then try it in a different context. Maybe a private lunch or one-on-one chat will give you the desired outcome? Chinese culture places a lot of importance of face and group harmony hence they do not like to disagree directly with others to avoid being labeled impolite.”Saving Face” is an important concept to understand.

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3. Avoid Talking About Certain Topics

Avoid talking about death or mentioning somebody has died since this is a serious topic in China. Also, the color white represents death. Hence, you should avoid presenting anything white such as gifts or wrapping paper.

You shouldn’t compare China to Japan for religious and political issues. The Chinese people are often uncomfortable discussing political or historical incidences with foreigners that caused embarrassment to China. Avoid any discussion of the three Ts (Tibet, Taiwan, Tiananmen). Tibet is unlikely to come up with conversation, to most Chinese people Tibet is a destitute and backwater part of the country. The Tiananmen Square incident was over 25 years ago and most Chinese people know nothing about it. Taiwan could come up, but at no point should you refer to it as a separate country. Chairman Mao is still greatly revered by the country and considered the father of modern China, don’t discuss any negative opinions you might have.  Also, avoid discussing anything that will make China look inferior or discussions around communism and government

4.  Ask Questions..But Not Too Many.

Asking questions can be crucial in communication but when do they become too many or inappropriate? No, for an answer is also unacceptable hence delays and excuses are considered more polite.

5. Don’t Criticize Chinese Food and Culture

Always try to focus on positive points. Try not to be negative, raising your voice, pointing at people or beckoning with one finger when communicating instead use the palm of your hand. Sometimes it’s easy to forget how you feel at home when foreigners make judgments or statements that you disagree with. Every place has positives and negatives.

6. Don’t Be Late

Expats should understand how often traffic jams occur in the major Chinese cities and consider that while scheduling for a meeting/appointment. Being late for an appointment is viewed as an insult in Chinese culture.

7. Business Card Etiquette 

The Chinese are big on gifts and when presenting your business card ensure one side is in English and the other Chinese. Ideally, it should be printed in gold ink since that is the color of prestige and prosperity in China. Present your business card with both hands the Chinese side facing the recipient and after receiving a card, carefully examine it before placing it into your card case.

Studies have shown that there is a strong correlation between cultural dimensions and performance in any organization. Sensitivity to different cultures is paramount in establishing successful relationships with superiors and subordinates. Working in China as an expat will mean that you be cognizant of the workplace culture, understand Hofstede’s cultural dimension and adjust to new styles to fit business and cultural situations.

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