Over the past decade, the world has seen China grow at astounding rates. The country around us continues to change at rapid speeds but SVG’s vision has always remained the same. We help foster a healthy social sector in China. While China continues to modernize its façade and meet the demands of the global market, there are subtle and deep-rooted cultural aspects that remain steadfast. Often times, potential clients tell us about issues they have had due to cultural miscommunications.
At SVG, we help our overseas clients and donors understand these cultural differences. This is key when it comes to building effective communication, efficient project execution and long-term relationships. We compiled five of the more common areas we have observed where understanding and open-mindedness are needed:
- Language rooted in cultural understanding – Mastering Mandarin vocabulary and grammar does not always mean a person can communicate effectively. In China, one must understand the culture in order to communicate well in Mandarin. For example, auspicious mentality is ingrained in the local culture. There are repeated cases where companies translate their names directly into Mandarin without considering the connotations those terms have in Chinese. Some companies will even choose a name that has an auspicious meaning. Many multi-national companies have attributed their failures in the Chinese market to a poor translation of their company name. Individuals will pay more to have a mobile number with as many ‘8’s as possible as this number is deemed very lucky. Understanding an individual’s background can also help understand body language. Many Chinese businesswomen avert their gazes and have loose handshakes when an introduction is first made because of societal expectations. Conversely, westerners value direct eye contact and a firm handshake.
- Business is not just business. Relationships are everything – Often times, the term ‘Business is business’ is used in the west to imply that the decisions and actions made during a business transaction are not personal. It has no weight on the individuals’ personal perspectives or feelings. In China, it is the opposite. Decisions are often made exclusively because of the personal relationships involved. This is sometimes the hardest change in mentality for westerners. An introduction could be made solely because you know the client’s mechanic's neighbor but once you are deemed ‘in,’ it is as if you are family.
- Passive and Direct Communication – Simply put, in the west, it is common to be direct. In China, communication and actions are typically passive. For example, if you want to convey to a business partner in China that you do not want to proceed with a deal, you might say “it is inconvenient.” This implies there are many reasons why you disagree but you do not want to directly explain. In the west, it is very common to directly tell the business partner that you disagree and give bullet points as to why. Another common example can be seen in writing styles. In the west, individuals are trained to first state their main argument and proceed with the supporting evidence. In the east, supporting evidence is given and the article ends with the main point.
- Status Quo vs. Standing Out – The education system is a prime example of the differences in cultures. In China, memorization and repetition is a common practice for learning. Individual thought is not woven into the curriculum while in the west, creative thinking and individual thought are ingrained into teaching styles. We can see how this later affects the work forces in each respective place.
Identifying where these differences lay is not done to pinpoint which way of thinking is better. Understanding of cultures is important for all parties involved so that barriers can be broken down. We find that open-mindedness is key. After better understanding the other party’s perspective, stronger relationships are built and goals are more efficiently and effectively met.