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Whether in business or other settings, Chinese people will often demonstrate a notable lack of contentiousness, preferring to say indirectly what an American would not hesitate to say frankly.
If one's professional or social senior in China errs in some way, the junior will seldom correct or criticize him. This is in part because doing so would cause the senior to lose face, which is undesirable. One does not want to be the reason another loses face. Others take a dim view of someone who caused another to lose face in this way.
When constructive criticism is invoked by a senior, or even by an equal, the response from a Chinese person will probably not be very candid. An articulate Chinese person will attempt to use polite conversation to lead the person requesting the criticism to arrive at the same opinion as is felt by the person of whom the criticism is being asked. This is a roundabout way of saying, "I will gently talk you into developing the same opinion, criticism, suggestion, or conclusion as I have on this issue without explicitly stating what that actually is." Although I have observed this often enough, it is far from anecdotal; see for instance Tjosvold and Sun (2001) and Chen (2004).
This is the inevitable result of China and other Eastern countries having high-context cultures. The implications this has for decision-making are hardly trivial.
In a high context environment, the transmission of information largely depends upon the context in which it is transmitted (Hall and Hall, 1987). A business meeting in China has a much different atmosphere than one in the United States. The hierarchy of executives in the meeting is much more important in Chinese meetings than in the U.S. This necessarily impacts the way subordinates make suggestions, give feedback, and even answer direct questions. Very often, silence on the part of subordinates is a sign of respect.
Contrast this with a business meeting in the United States in which subordinates are expected to make suggestions and respond to direct questions with frank answers. The Chinese subordinate in an American business meeting occupies a position that is not to be envied. His or her respectful silence in the presence of seniors may be construed as meaning that he or she has nothing to say.
In a more personal venue, the high vs. low context culture issue and "face" issue play just as significant a role in decision making. Americans will probably concur that, purely as consumers, most people are more apt to purchase an expensive item from someone we know than from someone we do not know. High pressure selling generates more resentment in China than it does in the U.S., where it is practically part of the background of the sales environment. When high pressure selling comes from strangers (who have less "face" than do more familiar people), it is particularly off-putting. Interestingly, the level of "face" is influenced by the degree to which we know the person, or the person is known by someone else who is. This touches on another subject, guanxi, the process of social networking that interacts with mianzi.
This means that, at least sometimes, a person will decide against purchasing the perfect item because it was "pitched" with a lot of pressure from a stranger, and will perhaps settle for a less-suitable item if the sales pitch that is received is low pressure and/or from a familiar person.
Thus, we will always be somewhat subject to the influence of values at many levels upon our decision-making processes and behavior in general.
Barker, Thomas S., Cobb, Steven L. (2000). Survey of Ethics and Cultural Dimensions of MNCs. Competitiveness Review, 10(2), 123-129.
Chen, Charles P. (2004). Transforming Career in Cross-Cultural Transition: The Experience of Non-Western Culture. Counsellor Trainees. Counselling Psychology Quarterly, 17(2), 137-144.
Gries, Peter Hays. (1999). A 'China Threat'? World Affairs. 162(2), 63-75.
Hall, Edward, T., Hall, Mildren Reed. (1987). Nonverbal Communication for Educators. Theory Into Practice. 26(1), 364-367.
Hofstede, Geert, McCrae, Robert R. (2004). Personality and Culture Revisited: Linking Traits and Dimensions of Culture. Cross-Cultural Research. 38(1), 52-38.
Price-Bonham, Sharon. (1976). A Comparison of Weighted and Unweighted Decision-Making Scores. Journal of Marriage & Family, 38(4), 629-671.
Tjosvold, Dean, Sun, Haifa F. (2001). Effects…[continue]
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