Culture is a multifaceted concept that is difficult to be defined adequately. Although many definitions of the concept have been proposed, none of them is universally accepted. Nevertheless, for purposes of this paper, culture denotes the typical features of a given social group that manifest in the group’s way of doing things. The social group can be an ethnic group, a certain race of people, a religious group, or members of a given organization. On the other hand, the said characteristics can be evident in the dialect, beliefs, values, artistic creation, social habits, music, and faith.
Across the world, different ethnic and racial groups show distinctions in their cultural practices. For instance, the Roma (Gypsies) are scattered across Europe and America and have lived separately for centuries, but their culture remains distinct and relatively uniform.
They are infamous for being reserved towards outsiders such that they largely remain mysterious to the outside world to date. In the religious realm, Muslims have a religious culture that is distinct from others. A woman wearing a hijab automatically passes as a Muslim. This varying nature of cultural practices among different social groups has various implications for different environments, such as the workplace and school among others. This paper examines the Chinese culture in a bid to establish how it influences cross-cultural interaction within the work environment.
The Chinese Culture
China is presently the world’s most populous country. Like other nations across the world, it has a variation in the cultural practices of its people. Nonetheless, core Chinese values and beliefs cut across the entire country making it plain that the Chinese have a unique national culture that defines their basic identity (Goodall, Li, & Malcolm, 2006).
Language and communication
The population of China consists of an array of ethnic groups that speak different dialects. Despite these dialectal variations, the communication styles of the Chinese show common patterns. For instance, direct eye contact with seniors or people in authority is disrespectful. Further, direct eye contact between a man and woman is seen as an act of sexual impropriety (Goodall, et al., 2006).
In addition, Chinese culture discourages direct communication. For example, saying “no” directly is discouraged. Instead, a polite nod is preferable. The Chinese, like many other people, find it difficult to interpret silence (Goodall, et al., 2006). Some use it to signify respect while others use it to show disagreement or lack of understanding.
The Chinese society highly esteems values, such as humility, respect for parents, emotional self-control, and general conformity to societal norms. These values are important because they not only inculcate desirable virtues in young people but also instill a spirit of hard work. Achievements are highly valued at both family and societal levels since they bring a sense of respect for the individual, the family and society.
The Chinese society is patriarchal and hierarchical such that the elderly are highly respected and have the prerogative to make important family decisions. Extended families are a common phenomenon and up to three generations of the same family may live in the same household. Most importantly, family matters are private and off-limits to non-family members (Goodall, et al., 2006).
Religion and philosophy
Although there are several religious affiliations in China, Buddhism is the most dominant. Thus, it influences the philosophical systems (Taoism and Confucianism), which define the Chinese culture. As a result, the culture espouses a close relationship between people and nature as well as close interpersonal relationships.
Besides the few aspects of Chinese culture outlined above, there are certain common values that are highly esteemed by the Chinese people. For instance, human dignity is paramount and worth upholding at all costs (Goodall, et al., 2006). Chinese also value formal education and courtesy. They treat strangers politely and expect the same treatment in return.
Cross-cultural Interaction in the Work Environment
Working in China has proven to be a challenge to many foreigners. Some prematurely abandon their assignments while those who persist often end up with discouraging results (Goodall, et al., 2006). The unfriendliness of the Chinese work environment stems from the influence of the country’s culture on the work habits of its people.
The first and most common challenge is culture shock. Moving from an organized society, in which things run smoothly, to China may surprise many since they have to expend much more effort to get things done, but with caution to preserve the dignity of those involved (Goodall, et al., 2006). Secondly, the language barrier problem is still prevalent in China. English is the official working language in ethnically diverse organizations.
However, whenever two or more Chinese are gathered, they always revert to their language (Goodall, et al., 2006). The third challenge is miscommunication. Since their culture discourages direct communication, the Chinese mostly remain silent in meetings. A foreigner may wrongly perceive the silence as an unwillingness to communicate openly and blame it on them (Goodall, et al., 2006). Besides the highlighted challenges, there are more challenges associated with working in China, such as the absence of teamwork and unwillingness to take initiative and responsibility (Goodall, et al., 2006).
However, by taking a proactive approach to understanding Chinese culture, a foreigner can overcome these hurdles. An important aspect of this process is to strive to be as current as possible. For example, a foreigner can cultivate a close relationship with a trustworthy Chinese who can offer the most current advice on working with the Chinese since trends change so rapidly that using material that is six months old to update oneself may not be a good idea. Further, although the Chinese language is difficult to learn, it is a requisite for living and working in China. Some foreigners learn it in the numerous institutions that teach the language so any other person can learn it.
Besides individual effort, there is a need to create an effective work climate. Striking a balance between Western management philosophy and the Chinese way of operation is the best way to create an effective work climate in China. Today, organizational culture is a vital contributor to the success of any organization. Thus, by building an organizational culture that preserves the dignity of the workers while at the same time encouraging them to give their best, and ambient working environment can develop.
In addition, the Chinese fear taking responsibility due to the possible consequences of failure. The organizational culture should thus espouse learning from mistakes. Making them understand that they are not liable for punishment due to failure can alleviate the fear and encourage them to share their mistakes and learn from them.
Goodall, K., Li, N., & Malcolm, W. (2006). Expatriate managers in China: The influence of Chinese culture on cross-cultural management. Journal of General Management, 32(2), 57.