NO, I AM NOT REFERRING TO JAIL TIME. By ‘conviction’ I am referring to having a very strong opinion.
This is something that I see lacking in a lot of staff in China.
Here’s my example.
I’ve recently been training a group of data engineers who work for one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. Three of these engineers have been invited to speak at a conference on the east coast of the USA, and I’ve been working with each to ensure that their message targets their AUDIENCE, has a Key Message, and is precise.
Since their audience are mostly Americans, I have also been providing some insight into cultural differences between Chinese and Americans – in particular, the need to have conviction in a presentation.
And this was where I ran into trouble. The three trainees were reluctant to use the world ‘should’. A standard scientific paper is divided into introduction, methodology, results, conclusion and recommendations. While these three presenters excel in the first four, but are reluctant to give their recommendation.
“In China, we aren’t so direct”, said one of the trainees. I then reminded him of where he will be during his presentation – Baltimore. A long way from Shanghai.
For multinational companies, this absence of opinion can be detrimental to operations. A culture of harmony (和谐), driven from the top down from the Chinese government, is most likely the cause. But then again the Cultural Revolution is in living memory, and a time when an opinion could result in ‘reform through labour’ – or worse.
So for now, my recommendations to expatriate managers working in China, encourage your staff to be outspoken as often as possible. Reward those who are forthright, and remind all that evolution only comes through some stumbling.