A good portion of my grey hairs come from China communication.  Even when going to the store there or doing something “daily” there can be a strain from the way communication “flows”.  And when I say “flows” I mean bumbles and stumbles along like a moose wearing tennis shoes walking down stairs.  So when there is something larger than buying noodles on the line, you can imagine the tension level rises.

I’m not talking language…I’m talking communication.

Old scenario…squeezing toothpaste.

Supplier or staff:  Jacob, the order delayed.

Jacob:  Why?

Supplier or Staff:  Because the goods are bad.

Jacob (frustration rising):  Why are the goods bad…what do you mean?

Supplier or Staff:  Factory produced the wrong reference.

That’s a common scenario;  notice how with each response, more questions come from my side and with each of my questions, a new element is introduced to the conversational mix.  In the early days of my company (although this sounds elementary, it worked well) – in the early days and with new teammates later on, people needed to carry a notebook and before you come up and just start informing somebody something without giving them the background, point of reference, situation and forward movement, I had them to take time and visualize the conversation.  Not only conversations with me but amongst the team as well (not talking personal stuff, only business-related conversations)

Write down 3 or 4 main points and a conclusion.  So instead of the above scenario that I call squeezing the toothpaste tube one squeeze at a time, the conversation would be more all-encompassing, giving the listener a foundation and a point of direction.  Incidentally, this basic approach works in most conversational-style business or important updates, regardless country or culture.

China Communication Management in Manufacturing:

Just like the suppliers I wrote about in my last post, the majority of folks will relay or inform any mundane piece of information as if you are in their heads and know exactly where they’re coming from.

Living in China and successfully managing China requires you to be a private investigator so to speak.  You have to listen to what is not being said.  You have to get a heavy feel for what people DON’T want to talk about again and if you mention it again, you’re going down a wrong path.

I didn’t realize how obviously direct we are here in the States (and the West in general) until I had dealt with China.

Many importers will make a blanket statement that Chinese lie.  There is “yes and no” to that.

Here’s how to avoid that:  don’t put them in a position to lie.

They don’t have in their psyche the programming to say “I don’t know” or “I have no idea what you’re talking about”.  So if you ask your supplier about a process;  he’ll give you an answer, but it may the first answer that comes to his head.  What they won’t say is:

“Here’s what I think but let me double-confirm that and get back to you”.

“I’m not sure, let me do some research and get back to you”.

Especially the “I’m not sure” part.  That’s a face destroyer.  To the Chinese, a person should immediately give an answer about a topic if asked.  That’s why when I was living there, I was absolutely amazed about the quantity of experts that were there.  I could sneeze in my office and every staff member from the lady who cleaned during the lunch hour to the sourcing staff could tell me I had a cold, how I got it, why I had and how to get rid of it!  Walking down the street without a jacket on a nice Spring day could cause a troop of elderly ladies to come to you and extol the vices of “cold”.

And if you ask someone a question and they give you a full-of-beans-style answer that they shot of the top of their head and you call them out on it, it can lead to awkward silence.  You find a lot of awkward silence and giggling in China communication.  It makes for a good time.  For the grouchy foreigner, it can lead to frustration.  For the Chinese, it causes them to blow one another off and tune people out.  There is so much noise and verbal clutter in the country, you find people often tune one another out; including management, colleagues, clients…the bad thing is, they throw the baby out with the bath water and tune out very important pieces of the puzzle that lead to mega manufacturing issues.

Any points to add; for me or readers…how have you found China communication, especially in sourcing and manufacturing endeavors?