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The biz of biz in China (Part 2)

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The silence of a storm

Judging by how often a Chinese utters the word "yes" to just about every request, it would be too simple - and sometimes naïve, and at other times just plain crude and rude - to brand the locals as "yes-men". There's a big cultural "thing" that makes 99 per cent of locals say "yes" 99 per cent of the time, and that's because they don't want to start a storm.

At times, locals will intentionally say "yes" to even the most absurd idea out there. There's a big reason for this - locals hate to dezui (得罪) each other (and dezui could be translated to something as easy as to "p"-off someone else). The idea of spending Saturday at the office instead of in front of the karaoke machine may be the most stupid proposal the China branch of Acme Incorporated may have come up with, but (in particular) if the boss said so, no employee would dare think of vetoing the proposal.

Those in power would equally be wrong to treat every "yes" at face value (this is something that foreign bosses in China often fall into - they seem to take everything at face value. Not their bad - after all, more things are at face value in the West). Sometimes, going through a third person to ask if the idea was brilliant or brain-dead could yield a more frank answer - and do note that the vast majority of Chinese do not speak their minds (they want to say what you'd like to hear, which could produce quite a wide gap with how things actually are in reality).

If you smell something wrong, hold them horses as soon as possible, and inquire or change course. Storms in the Chinese biz world can tend to be on the silent side - sometimes, you can hardly make out their imminent arrival - but once they're there and especially once the lid pops open, it can get downright nasty.

Relations: Distance, not boxes

Here's a fundamental difference: In the West, we're used to sticking our colleagues, friends and allies in boxes. There's the box for the company, the box for the bar, the box for pretty much everything. You're either in the box or you're out. Black and white, virtually no space left for shades of grey (or very rarely at that).

Distance, though, is how the Chinese see relations. The Chinese are in no rush to stick their colleagues and pals in boxes. A client that has not been in touch with the company for a decade is never thrown out of the box; the Chinese prefer to think of him or her as "far" rather than being too "near". You share your skeletons in the closets with your "nearest" friends, while you can feast over some Tsingtao Beer with some friends that appear "far" and that you want to pull back into your circle of friends.

Yours truly is a big advocate for the distance-based relationship idea. He never dumps friends in the dumpster - no, that would be too inhumane. And he goes out of the way to be nice and approachable even to friends he hasn't met for about five years or so.

By the way, gifts play a big role in Chinese society. If you felt someone was being really nice to you, by all means give that bar of chocolate to her, or reward him with something nice.

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