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Learning a new Business Culture

Josie, University of Hertfordshire Student and Diamond Fund winner, continues an account of her experiences gaining work experience on an internship in China…

Terracotta Warriors Photo

When I decided to intern abroad, I knew there would be differences in the business culture, I just didn’t know how different. Learning how to behave in a new environment opened my eyes to international professionalism and how each culture expects their employees to behave.

Chinese business relationships are mostly based on personal relationships and are therefore imperative to remain amicable. This cultural business practice is known as Guanxi – a Chinese social concept based on the exchange of favours – in which personal relationships are considered more important than laws and written agreements. When arriving in China, this was the first term I was introduced to and was taught all the ways to follow this way of business.

In order to maintain Guanxi, you need to represent yourself, your firm and your colleagues appropriate by following the term of Mianzi. This translates to ‘face’ and means avoiding embarrassment by maintaining a certain appearance with others and in return showing them respect. Abiding by Mianzi relates to not only the place of business, but in personal conversations and at business meals as well.

For example, in China, the company will almost always pay the food bill, which subsequently makes them the host of the dinner. In return, the employer will order the choice of dishes with the expectation that you will respect their choices and eat the dishes. It is far more accepting that you make up an excuse for not eating the dish rather than admitting to not enjoying the choices. I was often taken on business lunches and was expected to finish the meal with no complaints. Complaining indicates disrespect and could cause my employer to lose Mianzi as they feel they did not order well.

Shanghai photo

Another difference in Chinese culture is that you cannot always expect a direct answer, especially when the answer in no. This again is mainly due to the term Mianzi and the employer’s way of saving face. It is more likely to hear answers such as ‘We can discuss that later,’ which often led to miscommunication. This was something it took a while to understand personally. Having worked in the UK, I am used to direct one-to-one conversations with no tone of disrespect when hearing ‘no’, and adjusting to this type of conversation was at first challenging.

Making sure I didn’t unintentionally disrespect my colleagues was one of my biggest worries. When discussing anything related to China, you had to be aware as to not offend people – even if their comment was offensive themselves. Conversing about Chinese food could start off as innocent and end in accidentally offending someone. People often made remarks playing down China’s achievements and position, however the remarks were more than likely just false modesty.

Working in a different country with a different business culture was challenging but also extremely interesting. It was exciting to see how different countries act in their place of business and to understand why these terms were followed. Because of these business practices, most Chinese companies are extremely respectful and are often filled with employees with personal, close and valued relationships. It was rewarding to see first hand how these relationships benefit such companies.

photo credit: fanjw via photopin cc and Josie Sultan.

Josie Sultan is a current student at the University of Hertfordshire.

Josie Sultan is a current student at the University of Hertfordshire.

  1. 20/10/2014 at 16:39

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