Throughout society, intercultural misunderstandings exist in nearly every aspect of everyday life. However, one of the most prominent areas of cultural differences exists within business practice. Administrators of international corporations have to manage, collaborate, and make tactical processes that adapt to cultural differences in each business environment.
Additionally, many domestic and international companies market both products and services throughout the world, making the understanding of intercultural differences an important facet of any business organization. Substantial research on differences between American and foreign cultures in business situations have been conducted over the last thirty years. These research efforts focused on differences between American and Japanese in business (Slate 16). Additionally, research on the distinction between the U.S. and other areas of the world such as the Netherlands, Greece, Russia, Korea, and Arabic countries has been discussed in detail (Yu and Murphy 357). According to Shari Caudron, many training programs and techniques have been utilized in order to make business managers aware of these intercultural differences (Caudron 45).
However, the cultural differences between America and China are less researched in reference to the business relationship that continues to expand (Bucknall 5). An understanding of Chinese business practice by domestic corporations is crucial in order to maintain positive relationships between the West and the East (7).
The major differences between American and Chinese culture include language, history, religion, politics, geography, and economic structure (Slate 17). While each of these aspects lead to cultural differences that make each culture distinct and appealing, they become barriers in the course of everyday business. However, these cultural differences need to be recognized before they can be interpreted. When these differences can be understood, business practices can be adjusted to accommodate differences, and communication between American and Chinese cultures can be achieved in a mutually comprehensible manner.
One of the most difficult obstacles to overcome of any culture involves language. According to Emily Slate, the Chinese are making efforts to learn additional languages, including both Japanese and English. Additionally, Americans are putting an emphasis on learning different languages in business schools. Using smaller phrases, such as “thank you” and “please” is known to be a sign of goodwill (Slate 18). Breaking language barriers allow for cultures to share both ideas and engage in social bonding.
Individual Focus vs. Group Focus
In addition to language barriers, considerable cultural differences can hinder working relationships between Chinese and American businesses. The Chinese are known to focus on group efforts, living and working together in a group. Additionally, they depend on each other in both their everyday lives and in work situations. They stress the importance of achieving honor for the group or the family. However, Americans differ as they emphasize the rights and achievements of the individual, along with the space and freedom of acting independently (Johannsen ï¿½ 5).
In terms of space, while Americans have private offices or individual cubicles at work, in China, people can work together in the same room. In home life, while Americans have separate rooms for family members to sleep, homes can be shared with many members of the family in China (Bucknall 194). When understanding different cultures, it is important these differences are accommodated when building cultural relationships.
Communication: Verbal and Nonverbal
Individuals from various cultures express themselves and take risks at varying levels. The American culture encourages open-minded ideas, with more straightforward methods of solving problems. An American individual shows a variety of facial expressions, which easily show if they are happy or frustrated. Americans can easily say “no,” and are likely to express more emotion or anger if a situation does not lead to a successful result. When negotiating business deals, Americans use a high level of emotion, and can come across demanding (Penzner 61).
In Chinese culture, individuals are more conservative and introverted, and many times do not utilize their feelings to make a decision. Additionally, it is more difficult to say “no” if a favor is asked. With regards to behavior, the Chinese can be more subtle and indirect, making it difficult to tell if they are satisfied with a particular suggestion. While it is preferable to seem agreeable in Chinese culture, their preference to avoid disagreements can be problematic when negotiating business deals with individuals in
American culture (62).
Additionally, the differences between nonverbal and verbal communication are apparent in public. In China, when people collide into each other on a busy public street, they continue to walk without an apology because it is assumed that the occurrence was an accident. However, in America, people would most likely become verbal and either issue a verbal statement such as “pardon me” or “sorry” (Gibson 20).
Public Speaking and Persuasion in Interviews
In American society, the importance of verbal skills is stressed, as children are trained at an early age in school to present ideas and encouraged to persuade others of their point of view. During business meetings in American culture, oral presentations are usually made without the use of papers. If a paper is present, it is usually not relied upon. In Chinese culture however, individuals utilize their notes to make speeches (Yu and Murphy 359).
In job interviews, an emphasis on verbal skills helps to guide the tone and focus in American culture. Applicants for a job attempt to sell themselves, as an American style interview highlights oral presentation. As Yu and Murphy claim, American applicants seem more confident and aggressive than Chinese applicants (360). In China, the interviewer is focused more upon the applicant’s background in past experience, achievements, prior evaluations, and education. During an interview, a Chinese applicant may appear to be modest and courteous. If the applicant appears to be very aggressive or arrogant, the interviewer would quickly find the behavior offensive (361).
Methods of Greeting
When people are introduced to each other for the first time in Chinese culture, the normal greeting is to shake hands. As opposed to American culture, the Chinese are not used to hugging, especially between men and women (Bucknall 42). Additionally, when initial greetings take place, business cards are exchanged with two hands to show respect. After the cards are received, they are read silently in order to remember the other person’s name, business status, and company in order to show interest in the other person (80).
In the United States, business cards are many times not offered initially, but only if one participant wants to call or send an item to the other. Americans usually present their business card with one hand, and accept the other person’s card, putting it away without clearly reading the information. Without the help of the business card, Americans are expected to remember the other person’s name and organization (81).
Concepts of Time
The difference between Chinese and American cultures with regards to the concept of time differs in terms of everyday tempo. Americans are fast paced, and always aware of the time. They always appear to be busy, and are seemingly always in a hurry. In reference to business, employees in American culture expect efficient negotiations, quick decisions, and agreements that are always successful. In China however, Americans must become more patient with time (Bucknall 39).
Additionally, if a guest arrives to an individual’s home in China in a personal setting, they are expected to arrive on time. If the guest arrives earlier than expected, it is also welcome. However, in the United States, guests can arrive either on time or a little later. However, arriving earlier than expected puts a host on short notice, and is generally not accepted (40).
One cultural taboo which exists between Chinese and American society comes in the form of smoking. A common business practice in China would allow for cigarettes to be offered to colleagues or close friends. If a cigarette was not offered, it would be considered impolite (Zha 147). In the United States, however, a person with a cigarette may ask for permission before smoking, but would generally not offer a cigarette to the other party. Many Americans have a cultural belief that smoking has negative connotations, and is not looked upon favorably.
Additionally, when attending banquets, eating and talking are two crucial aspects of Chinese culture. The consumption of alcohol is an important feature of Chinese banquets, where drinking and the toasting others is mandatory process. Getting participants of the banquet drunk in China is seen as a form of gesture and goodwill, where in America, getting drunk in front of business prospects would be frowned upon (126).
In conclusion, understanding cultural differences is the initial stage in reducing the issues in dealing with contrasting cultures. When American culture attempts to conduct business with China, taking into account language barriers, focus on group aspects, facets of nonverbal communication, public speaking, greeting habits, time concepts, and cultural taboos need to be taken into consideration. Learning these aspects of Chinese culture allow Americans to extend their knowledge and understand the importance of developing personal relationships with Chinese business people.
While differences in culture exist among countries, a cultural divergence exists with countries as well. In America, business is conducted differently in large and small cities, along the east and west coast, and between the north and south. This notion is also apparent in China. By distinguishing cultural differences among regions, an important step is achieved in understanding and achieving successful communication in the global environment.