If you’re a Westerner with Chinese friends, or a Chinese person with Western friends, you probably ought to read this. It’s from the end of Communicating Effectively with the Chinese, which is co-authored by a Chinese and a Western scholar and easily the single best-all-around book I’ve read on the subject so far. They should force-feed it to all China-bound Westerners, in my opinion.
Anyway, first the advice for North Americans who wish to get along better with their Chinese friends. Many Chinese would no doubt be astounded that we actually have to be told this kind of stuff (p. 85):
- Focus on how something is said – relational and mutual-face meanings often outweigh literal, content meanings.
- Learn to read paralinguistic cues, such as facial expressions, body movements, gestures, and pauses.
- Develop a belief that words can be inadequate and insufficient.
- Understand that Chinese selves are often embedded in plural pronouns, and learn to differentiate personal opinions from those of the group.
- Be aware that impersonal language can be used with outsiders and that insiders and outsiders are treated differently.
- Accept that Chinese value indirect talk and that requests are often implied.
- Recognize that definitive responses are rarely given in Chinese culture and that the word yes may have multiple meanings.
- Understand that modesty is a Chinese virtue and that understating and discrediting oneself is expected.
- Be aware that personal questions considered as private in the United States are asked frequently and that guān xīn talk is a sign of care and interest.
- Accept that Chinese tend to keep opinions to themselves and are uncomfortable in engaging in social talk with strangers.
And now the advice for the Chinese, who want to get along with their Western friends. You might be surprised that the authors felt Chinese actually need to be told some of this stuff (p. 86):
- Focus on what is said; try not to read too much into the words or be oversensitive to nonverbal nuances.
- Learn to accept what is said.
- Develop a belief that verbal messages and feedback are powerful and effective.
- Understand that self-affirmation and individuality are important to North Americans and that self-oriented messages are used to separate oneself from others.
- Be aware that everyone should be treated equally and that polite speech applies to family members, intimate friends, and strangers.
- Accept that North Americans value direct talk and that requests are often stated explicitly.
- Recognize that being assertive is valued in the U.S. culture and that “no” is an accepted assertive response.
- Understanding that modesty is equated with low self-confidence and that enhancing and crediting oneself is expected.
- Learn not to ask personal questions, because they can be offensive and insulting; understand that guān xīn talk may be construed as meddling and intrusive.
- Accept that North Americans like to express their opinions openly and are talkative in the social interactions.