Five Things Not to Do When Working in China
My passion for diversity started at a very young age; it was in my blood. I knew what it felt like to be treated as an outsider, and I wanted nothing more than to create a climate in which everyone had a voice and a place at the table. So when the opportunity to lead the culture integration of Lenovo through the acquisition of the IBM PC division and its iconic ThinkPad product line, I was up to the challenge. As a Chinese company newly entering the global marketplace, Lenovo’s entire future as a global company depended on it.
Although my intentions were good, after my first few months on the job, my Chinese colleagues saw me as part of the problem I’d been hired to fix. You see, my Western style of doing business was not understood or well received. I wasn’t doing what was needed to make a connection. I needed to focus on understanding their work styles first and then adapt mine to fit. I reasoned that being on the ground with my colleagues in China day-in and day-out could make a huge difference.
So I decided to move my entire family to China for three years in order to learn how to operate within an Eastern culture. The experience was invaluable because it also helped me to translate cultural nuances for my Western colleagues. Over time, I saw a change in how they viewed me. They realized that I was open to learning from them, and that we were all in it together, working toward common goals.
Here are five behaviors I learned not to do when working in China; they made all the difference for me:
- Don’t cancel meetings. When you schedule a meeting with a Chinese person and then cancel, that shows disrespect. If you make a request for their time, do everything you can to keep the meeting.
- Don’t be vague. Chinese executives like an email inviting them to attend a meeting to be directed only to them, not as part of a group, and for the purpose of the meeting to be clearly stated. Prepare an agenda detailing what you would like to cover and what you expect from them.
- Don’t speak harshly or bluntly. Using the word “disagree” comes across as too strong and disrespectful to the Chinese. In general, when you don’t agree with someone, the matter must be handled with the utmost sensitivity, and mixed with praise and gentle suggestions for improvement.
- Don’t act uninterested. When interacting with Chinese colleagues, especially those who are developing their English-speaking skills, repeat what they say to show you understand their point of view.
- Don’t do things the way you always do them. Stretch out of your comfort zone and adapt the behaviors of your colleagues. I learned a few key words in Mandarin to show respect for my Chinese colleagues and their culture. Through this process, I got a deeper understanding and appreciation for their culture.
Learn more about how to successfully do business in China and globally in The Lenovo Way.