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Collaboration between Germans and Chinese
by Christian Goedel
Intercultural expertise as a deciding factor for successful collaboration between the middle of Europe and the Middle Kingdom
It is often assumed that having mastered the classic “Do’s and Don’ts” is enough to have career success in another country. If as a Chinese person you have mastered German table manners, or if as a German in China you can present your business card correctly, then all business matters will go smoothly. However intercultural conflicts and their solutions usually go deeper than that and are often concealed beneath the surface.
In China Germans are much esteemed in many areas. However when it comes to everyday cooperation, people also have some struggles dealing with us. We debate a lot, come off as bossy, always want to know everything exactly, and plan everything out in detail. To the Chinese this often seems negative and fussy. If you look a little deeper though this can also be explained. You realize that German business culture is characterized by a “culture of discussion” that is learned already in school. Having your own opinion and being able to verbalize it is valued. It is understandable that due to German history,uncertainties are more strenuously avoided than in other cultures, and that Germans need more structure and planning to make them feel “secure.” Keyword: Germany as the world champions of assurances. Such a realization leads the Chinese to a deeper understanding of their German colleagues than just the statement “they always want to be right” or “they are so rigid and inflexible.”
The case is exactly the same the other way around: Germans perceive Chinese in meetings often as reserved, not very keen to debate and quiet. Against the background of German culture this can quickly be assessed as refusal, uncertainty or lacking professionalism. It helps to look deeper here too: the Chinese culture is more strongly characterized by hierarchies. In schools children are not brought up in a “discussion culture” through essays or oral participation in class like in Germany. If something is not understood in a meeting, it is often not their own face that a Chinese person is trying to save by keeping silent or by saying “yes.” In China this above all means that the German didn’t explain it correctly and is losing face in the meeting in front of the whole team! The intention of remaining silent can therefore also been seen in a positive light: one is trying to help their German colleague.So it’s not negative at all, as is often misunderstood by Germans. If you understand the true motivation behind the behavior of the other, you can deal with it constructively and find culturally suitable solutions.
Intercultural problems are often vague, difficult for those involved to grasp, and frequently very emotional and characterized by quick preconceptions. However if you compare culture to an iceberg, it is recommended that you look below the water’s surface. Here you will often find insights that can not only surprise you, but that can be of true assistance for German-Chinese collaboration.