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How (not) to Go Broke in Chinese Asia

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1 How (not) to Go Broke in Chinese Asia
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2 opening words Hello. My name is Greg Bissky. Welcome.
This presentation contains copies of the slides used in my How (not) to Go Broke in Chinese Asia video.* They are the colorful slides. On pages like this I explain why I chose certain slides, offer more information about the workshop and how it reflects my 20 years experience working in Chinese Asia. Thank you for your time and attention. * available at

3 Same Words, Different Meanings
talk talk talk problem solved What are you doing? We agreed to do X. Yes we did! No we didn’t!

4 “your name” and Chen ‘Same words, different meanings’ (Smith & Chen slide) introduces the biggest problem Westerners have working in Chinese Asia: poor communication. Cross-culture communication success needs two things for, a language in common and a way of using language in common. People naturally focus on the language in common, achieved by your Chinese and/or their English, or by using a translator. If (actually when) communication problems happen people blame poor language skills. Poor language skills are a problem, certainly, but not anywhere near as big a problem as how language is used. Or misused. In Smith/Chen both sides understood every word the other used, yet still had opposite ideas about what the words meant and what conclusion they had reached. Because of this misunderstanding, they’ll start to mistrust (or at minimum be unsure about) each other, making business success difficult no matter how good a fit their products/services are. Business depends upon communication. Poor West-East communication causes more business headaches and wastes more money than any other problem. That’s the bad news. There is good news: it is a fairly easy problem to fix. Key is understanding that each culture has different Rules of Communication, then learning and using Chinese Rules. You have to speak and hear as Chinese do, not to Chinese words but to the Chinese ways. To do this you need a pair of Chinese glasses.

5 “Going Broke” Relationships
When these problems happen … there is mistrust someone doesn’t listen someone doesn’t understand someone doesn’t tell the truth the relationship is heading towards “going broke”

6 “Going Broke” Relationships
“Going Broke” relationships are those where the basic conditions of the relationship lead to inevitable problems > failure > going broke. Sadly, the following equation sums it up: effort + good intentions + good product/service ≠ business success Certainly there are other types of ‘go broke’ relationships; two examples would be: you didn’t (or couldn’t) do your ‘due diligence’, and are partnered with a Chinese firm unable to do the work you need from them your Chinese partner is ‘out to get you’ in some way The former happens (good information can be hard to find), as does the latter, but a lot less than most think. (I’ve rarely had any ‘out to get me’ problems with relationship-minded Chinese … but have had with legal-minded Westerners.) ‘Going Broke’ relationships happen in the West, but our reliance on Contract to define the terms, conditions and problem resolutions lets us overcome dysfunctional communication. Not so in Chinese Asia, as their reliance on Relationship to define both business terms and to solve problems makes good communication and mutual trust absolutely critical. Is time spent developing good relationships a waste of time? It may seem so at first but remember, Chinese Asia has few lawyers and fewer laws, and in the end all that will protect you is your relationship, not the contract nor the courts.

7 Rules of Communication
offer as much information as you can don’t make people guess your meaning get to and keep on the point state your honest opinion, even if you disagree ask questions if you don’t understand don’t disagree openly don’t ask the people above difficult questions don’t tell people you don’t understand a thing communicate negatives in an indirect way don’t embarrass someone in front of a group

8 Different Communication “Rules”
Every culture communicates the same types of messages, things like asking questions, expressing disagreement or offering opinions. What Westerners need to understand is that while the types of messages may be the same here and in Chinese Asia, the ways messages are communicated ‘properly’ differ greatly on each side of the Pacific. If each culture communicates the same types of messages, why do they develop different Rules Of Communication, rules that determine how language should be used? The simple answer is philosophy; each culture uses language in ways that help it achieve its overall philosophical goal. The goal of Western culture is to discover knowledge; the goal of Chinese culture is to have stable, harmonious relationships between people: from such different goals come such very different ideas of how language should be used. Western Rules value clarity and efficiency, Chinese value harmony and politeness. A brief principle about politeness: The receiver of the action, not the sender, determines whether the action is/is not polite. In other words, when I speak to you, you decide if I am polite, not me. Being polite means adapting to whom you are with and/or where you are. To change an old saying, when in Rome the Romans decide what is polite. If you want to succeed you must respect (at minimum) Chinese Rules, and do your best to use them. It’s not always easy, but wearing your Chinese glasses will help.

9 Chinese Have Unique Rules of …
managing staff building relationships doing business communicating as seen through Western glasses communicating doing business building relationships managing staff using Chinese glasses

10 Lots of Different “Rules”
More than just communication has different Rules. Here are just a few examples: Westerners tend to be able to separate the personal from the business, leading to sentences like, “It’s not personal, just business.” Chinese do not understand this idea: to them, business is personal. Chinese often complain that Westerners only care about business, only care about what is good for them, a common example being “… the Westerner only calls me when there is a problem. How does this show that they care about me?” Westerners believe in personal responsibility, that when Mr. Chen is causing a problem it is their job to confront him personally. In order to protect the relationship though, the Chinese might use a third party to communicate displeasure with Mr. Chen. Westerners expect to solve issues at meetings. The Chinese view meetings differently though, separating them into three phases, before, after and during the meeting, with during being for information distribution and the others when issues are best solved. Chinese expect that rank has its privileges, meaning there may be different rules for senior staff than junior in a Chinese office. Westerners believe in equality though, that everyone should follow the same rules. This belief in equality confuses the Chinese.

11 What Chinese Expect From You
Well, he has a good product at a good price, but that’s not all. Take a close look. He’s trying to learn our ways, and doesn’t say his ways are better than ours! He respects us: that’s what is important. He will learn all the other things later. Look at him. He’s too loud, doesn’t know how to use chopsticks or pass business cards, he gave you a knife for a gift and always wants to sit in the wrong chair at dinner. Why do you want to business with him? respect is crucial respect comes from understanding why the Chinese are like they are

12 Chinese Expectations Chinese are very proud of their culture. Chinese (mostly) know and appreciate how full of nuance their language, their customs and their “ways” are. Chinese know that you are not Chinese, and (again mostly) that you don’t know their language, customs or ways. The Chinese do not expect you to be Chinese. Not being ‘Chinese’ is actually a benefit for Westerners, as it means that Westerners are judged by a different standard than they use to judge fellow Chinese. Western actions are not judged by whether they match Chinese norms so much as whether the Westerner is trying to follow Chinese norms. It’s all about respect. What always amazes me is watching Westerners travel across the ocean and struggle to find then communicate with a partner, then to risk the relationship by trying to do things their (the Western) way. Don’t they realize that they are guests in Chinese Asia? If you expect Chinese to follow Western ways and Rules when investing in the West, why shouldn’t the Chinese expect the same from you when you are in their country? It’s all about respect and honest effort. You will make cultural mistakes—Chinese expect you to: after all, you are not Chinese—but almost any mistaken action can be forgiven if you show some humility and willingness to learn and to improve. Being able to laugh at yourself helps as well.

13 Chinese don’t expect you to be Chinese.
But I’m Not Chinese when do I give the gifts? I can’t speak Chinese where should I sit? how do you use chopsticks? I don’t like rice Do I have to drink tea? Chinese don’t expect you to be Chinese.

14 Chinese Expectations Part II
To continue from an earlier slide, Chinese know and appreciate how full of nuance their language, their customs and their “ways” are. Chinese know that you are not Chinese, and (again mostly) that you don’t know their language, customs or ways. This is not a big problem. Business success will not depend upon you not making mistakes, but more on whether you can laugh at your mistakes, apologize for them and try your best to learn not to make the same mistakes again. The Westerners who do best in Chinese Asia think of dealing and working with the Chinese as an adventure, a series of experiences to learn from. Westerners who struggle tend to think of working with the Chinese as a test, with every experience being a ‘pop quiz’ of their knowledge of all things Chinese. To use a simple example, who cares if you can use chopsticks? The Chinese certainly don’t. What they do care about, though, is if you are willing to try to use chopsticks, willing to see the humor in your awkward attempts to do so, and your willingness not to complain. These principles, trying, seeing the humor and not complaining, are true in all situations. It’s all about respect and honest effort. You will make cultural mistakes—Chinese expect you to—but almost any mistaken action can or will be forgiven if you show some humility and willingness to learn and to improve.

15 Westerners See Work in Asia as …
oh, Chinese “ways” are so hard to understand, I try but I really don’t know what or how to change. business is business all over the world, buy low, sell high, same in China. I don’t really have to change that much.

16 Attitude is important There are two basic reasons why Westerners do not change or adjust when doing business in Chinese Asia. Probably the most common reason is a mixture of uncertainty and confusion. Chinese ways and Rules are not only very different than what Westerners are used to, they also seem to very complicated and/or contradictory. Being unsure of just what to change or just how to adjust, Westerners don’t try hard enough to change, or their attempts to adjust are not consistent (see the slide about ‘tips’ for more on consistency). The other common reason for not adjusting to the Chinese reality is a mistaken belief that no adjustment is necessary, that business is business and business ‘rules’ are the same the world over. This is the ‘ugly Westerner’ approach. (This type of Westerner often will get angry when I point their ‘ugly’ attitude out to them, telling me that, “Hey, I make lots of adjustments: I’ve learned how to use chopsticks and I eat rice even though I don’t like it.” Whenever I hear an answer like this I never know what to say.)

17 I’ve got all the tips and tricks I need!
Tips Are Not Enough I’ve got all the tips and tricks I need! TIPS & TECHNIQUES passing biz cards making invitations giving gifts seating arrangements negotiating contracts solving problems black face, white face

18 I’ve got all the tips and tricks I need!
Tips Are Not Enough but some are strange and look hard to do … hmm … they can’t all be that important to follow! I’ve got all the tips and tricks I need! TIPS & TECHNIQUES passing biz cards making invitations giving gifts seating arrangements negotiating contracts solving problems black face, white face Paying the huge price of mistakes will change your mind!

19 You need more than ‘tips’
Most books I’ve read about doing business in Chinese Asia are full of tips and suggestions, things like a list of appropriate gifts or instructions about passing business cards with two hands. Others go farther, explaining colorful-sounding Chinese strategies like ‘white face, black face’ or ‘kill a chicken to warn the monkeys.’ I totally agree that tips and suggestions are very useful, but simply learning them is not nearly enough. As (or more) important than knowing a tip is understanding why the action described in the tip works and/or is important. When Westerners do not understand the cultural background they often use the tip or follow the suggestion in a half-hearted or inconsistent way. This is natural: if you don’t know ‘why’ you should do things differently than you are used to (like not disagreeing in a meeting), if you don’t realize why doing (or not doing) the thing is important, you can easily not do it, or do it inconsistently. As for the colorful Chinese strategies, they are often more interesting than useful, and using them can be very counterproductive. One of the more serious errors Westerners can make is to try to ‘out Chinese the Chinese,’ to try to ‘be Chinese’ in China. Westerners who try this either ‘play piano for the cow’ or are out-maneuvered by Chinese who understand Chinese strategies far more than the Westerner ever will. The Chinese are the home team, and always have ‘cultural home field’ advantage. Don’t try to be Chinese, and don’t worry about being a Westerner: worry instead about being a ‘respectful’ Westerner.

20 Chinese Are Just People
Chinese are NOT puzzles to figure out Chinese are NOT mysteries to solve Chinese are just people, just like you and me, they just do things differently than we do

21 The myth of the ‘inscrutable Chinese’
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “inscrutable” as, “a thing not easily investigated, interpreted, or understood,” and gives “mysterious” as the closest synonym. Many Westerners look at the Chinese as inscrutable, as a puzzle to solve or a mystery to figure out rather than as people to understand. This is a mistake, with bad consequences: as we tend to see what we are looking for, the more the Westerner tries to ‘figure out’ the Chinese ‘mystery’ the more mysterious the Chinese become. And the more confused the Westerner becomes. A key to understanding the Chinese is to think of the Chinese as people, not mysteries; people who want and do the same things we do, but who do them in a (very) different way than we do. To look at Chinese as ‘people,’ you need to understand ‘why’ Chinese do things the way they do, understand (at least in part) the Chinese logic behind Chinese actions. You need a pair of Chinese glasses. The Chinese will never be “easily understood,” I agree, but once you begin to ‘see’ things as Chinese do they stop being a mystery, and that is a necessary step towards success.

22 You Already Know How To Succeed
if you know how to make a best friend in your home country if you know how to make a marriage work you already know how to be successful in Chinese Asia you just don’t know that you know

23 If you … then you already know …
Is it true? If you know how to make a best friend at home, if you know how to make a marriage work, is it true that you already know how to do business in Chinese Asia? Yes, and no. The no part is the least important though, and just refers to the fact that you still will have lots of Chinese ‘ways’ to learn besides how to make friends. Not to worry though, as the yes part is by far more important. Chinese business is based on achieving ‘mutually beneficial relationships’ (like friendships), not on ‘legally binding arrangements’ (like contracts) as in the West. While the objective realities of the situation—where, when, how, how many, what type etc.—are of course important to the Chinese, such ‘facts’ are considered uncertain (facts can change thus the future is unknowable) and are not something to base a relationship on. Faced with an uncertain future, Chinese think their partner’s character and personality are more important than ‘facts.’ “How will the person react when the situation changes? Will they be selfish and seek unilateral advantage, or will they be caring and change as the facts change so both sides can benefit?” These are the important questions Chinese ask. Friendships and marriages depend upon flexibility, constant compromise and willingness to find mutually beneficial outcomes: Chinese business does too. Using make-a-friend ‘ways’ may not guarantee success in Chinese Asia, but not using them guarantees failure.

24 Wearing Chinese Glasses
isn’t easy and won’t give you 20:20 vision but if you don’t wear them

25 Not Wearing Chinese Glasses
and that is never good you do your business in Chinese Asia blind

26 Chinese glasses aren’t comfortable
As an old saying puts it, ‘the only person who likes change is a baby with dirty diapers.’ For the rest of us, change is often uncomfortable and confusing, especially if the change is total and dramatic. Total and dramatic are good words to describe the changes one sees through Chinese glasses. Like Alice falling through the looking glass, what you now see seems topsy-turvy, unclear and confusing. That is the bad news. The good news is that even though things will be ‘fuzzy,’ you will be able to see a LOT of very useful things. And in my experience having ‘fuzzy’ vision is MUCH BETTER than doing business ‘blind.’ The second piece of good news is that the more you wear Chinese glasses the more you will be able to see, and the clearer it will be. You may never be able to see as clearly as Chinese see, but … that’s better than the alternative, being blind.

27 Workshop Goals why key points attitudes assumptions
understand the attitudes assumptions change and you get your Chinese glasses tips, techniques and ‘how-to’ suggestions key points to illustrate you learn to see with your Chinese glasses

28 Goals explained What can really be accomplished in a 1-day workshop? There is no time to teach you to speak Chinese, or to transfer all the lessons I’ve learned from my 20 years experience. But that’s okay, as 1 day is enough time to change the way you look at working in Chinese Asia, and your success will depend upon how you look. The first step is to give you a pair of Chinese glasses, that is, to help you begin to ‘see’ things the way Chinese ‘see’ them. This involves explaining not just ‘what’ Chinese ‘see’ but, more importantly, to help you understand ‘why’ Chinese ‘see’ what they do. The second step is to teach you how to ‘see’ properly (or better) with your new Chinese glasses. This involves using small cases studies to illustrate the key points as well as a series of tips, techniques and suggestions on how to use your new ability to ‘see” to improve your ability to work successfully in Chinese Asia. Giving you Chinese glasses and then experience in using them leads to the final and most important workshop goal: to give you confidence in your ability to succeed, and the key skills and attitudes necessary to achieve that success.

29 Workshop Topics how Chinese history affects modern Chinese actions
Plato meets Confucius: explaining cultural differences how to market, not sell, your message in Chinese Asia Western vs. Chinese Rules of: Communication, Relationships and Business three ways the Chinese say no … without saying NO dealing with officials and bureaucrats how to avoid the common reasons for failure

30 Theory + Stories = Knowledge
A workshop that contains just theory puts people to sleep; a workshop that is only story after story doesn’t help people learn: the best workshops contain theories illustrated by stories. This is how I have designed the workshop. Stories are interesting, and I have hundreds of them. But all story-based instruction does is to teach people that (for example) in “Situation X do W, don’t do Z,” i.e., the lessons are limited to the actual stories. To gain a deeper understanding, participants need to learn why doing W would work in Situation X, and why Z wouldn’t. Doing this requires theory. I divide the workshop into three broad areas: theory background on subjects like communication (what is the goal of communication and the difference between selling and marketing your message), where ‘culture’ comes from and how communication and business is affected by culture. understanding them, an in-depth look at the roots of Chinese culture and how those roots affect modern day actions. (In this section I ask participants to explain the roots of Western culture to me: just what makes you a Westerner?) surviving and succeeding, small case studies plus practical tips and suggestions that give participants practice using the lessons

31 Workshop Participants Receive
Communication In Chinese Offices required pre-workshop reading contains case studies to help you prepare download free from Doing Business In Chinese Asia: Learning To Wear Chinese Glasses covers all the points made in workshop contains copies of all slides, maps and diagrams only available to workshop participants

32 Booklets You do not have to read the short (15 page) Communication in Chinese Offices booklet before attending the workshop, but I strongly recommend that you do. Besides offering an introduction to how and why Chinese culture affects Chinese communication, the two case studies it contains will help you prepare mentally for the workshop. Reading it in advance will also help speed things up in class (there are group discussions of both case studies). Download of this short booklet is free, whether you attend the workshop or not. Please feel free to copy and distribute it as well. Workshop participants receive the much larger booklet, Doing Business in Chinese Asia: Learning to Wear Chinese Glasses, at the start of the workshop. Besides covering all the points made in the workshop and copies of all the slides, maps and diagrams used, many of the slides are annotated with explanations and more details than I had time to provide during the class. It also has blank pages for any notes you might make. This larger text is only available to workshop participants. And, as it is not designed to ‘stand alone’ but merely to supplement the workshop, I ask participants not to copy or distribute it.

33 Contact & Registration Information
workshop registration available at all major credit cards accepted questions? contact me at: (PST: Los Angeles, Vancouver) fax: I look forward to meeting you at a workshop soon. Thank you.

34 Now what? If you are interested in learning more about me or the workshop, I invite you to spend a few minutes reading my website (see previous page for address). If you still have questions feel free to or contact me by phone. If by phone, only during Pacific Standard Time (Los Angeles, Vancouver) business hours please, and as I work from a home office don’t be surprised if my 8-year old daughter answers (she’s good at taking messages). I tell people that the only way to register for the workshop is online, but … sometimes I have to be flexible. Be assured that I have made online registration as secure as it can be. I restrict class size to 30 participants: it is a workshop, not a speech, and student participation is expected. Please be prepared to share stories, questions or experiences with fellow students. I also ask participants to fill out a detailed feedback survey at the end of the day: signed or anonymous, both ways are fine with me. I need you to tell me how to improve. Thank you for your time. I hope to see you at a workshop in the future. Sincerely, Greg Bissky Sooke Harbour, BC click here to end the presentation

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