China and the West – Problem Solving Challenges

Published on 2011-08-20

Source: Helga Weber @ Flickr
IN THE LATE 1970s Shenzhen became the gateway through which many international businesses made their way into China. Since then China and the rest of the world have been working to understand each other better and learning to live and work together. But more than 30 years after Deng Xiaoping opened the gates, it’s clear that there is still much more work to do.
In China, most people I meet have studied English for many years; have watched Western movies and television shows; have listened to English music (and can even sing it much better than I can in KTV);  have followed American and European politics and current events; and even enjoy McDonalds, KFC, Starbucks, and a host of other Western brands.
But all of this has still fallen short of preparing people around the world for a key activity that has a significant impact in both the international workplace and in our personal cross-cultural experiences; problem solving.
Now problem solving by itself isn’t a problem; however, in many cases, the way many Westerners approach solving problems (by asking a lot of questions and challenging ideas and assumptions) is often seen  from the Chinese perspective as disrupting the “harmony” of the situation.
As Westerners start attacking the problem in the presence of their Chinese colleagues, they are, in essence, ‘rocking the boat,’ and many of those Chinese colleagues will reach for the railing of the boat, hold on, and wait for the rocking to stop.
I’ve sat in meeting like this where the Westerners involved had no idea of the ‘disruption’ their questioning was causing. And when the Chinese people in the room just held onto the railing and waited for the rocking to stop, the Westerners became frustrated that they were not taking part in the ‘problem solving process’ and rocking the boat right back along with them. That frustration, led to behaviour that was counterproductive and actually made the situation worse.
Understanding this one key difference is the first step to living and working together in peace and harmony.
China has come a long way in the last thirty years and there are many exciting and challenging days, years, and centuries ahead; full of many problems to solve.
Once both sides have learned to understand key cultural differences, we will be well on our way to overcoming the obstacles in our way.
To learn more about how ClarkMorgan Corporate Training can help both Westerners and Chinese with their Cross-Cultural Communications, call us today at 800-820-5501 or click here to visit the web site.