When to Speak Up and When to Hold Your Tongue in a Chinese Office

When to Speak Up and When to Hold Your Tongue in a Chinese Office
May 28, 2019 By Degen Hill , eChinacities.com

As a non-Chinese person in a predominantly Chinese office, it can be difficult to know when, or when not, to speak up. Maybe you’ve got an idea about how to increase workflow or you’re unhappy with some aspect of management. There are plenty of reasons to speak up in the workplace, but also several reasons why you shouldn’t.

When to speak up:

Your idea is tangible/has value

Every company wants to “increase efficiency”, but often it’s more of something to strive for rather than something that can actually be implemented to great success. If you have a tangible idea about how to improve productivity and/or save money, however, it’s definitely worth mentioning to your boss. Even if it’s a long shot and your boss has previously shown little interest in change, people are more inclined to listen when money is involved.

You’ve already tried solving the problem yourself

If you come across a problem, before you complain or ask for help, try fixing it yourself. Chances are that with the power of Google, or Baidu, you’ll figure out how to remedy whatever situation is causing you grief.

In the off-chance that you can’t solve it solo, perhaps it’s time to bring the issue to your manager’s attention. Regardless of whether your suggestion is eventually executed, at least you’ve shown initiative by trying to solve it yourself first.

When it’s an easy fix

This is a bit tricky because if something is an easy fix you can usually just make the change yourself, such as buying a small desk fan if the air con in your office is weak. However, if something is an easy fix but requires the approval of “the powers that be”, bring it up at an appropriate time.

 You might find your boss is willing to back a plan if it won’t take much effort to implement. Whenever possible, do some research first and come up with a solid proposal, along with an outline of the benefits and cost analysis, before taking it up the chain.  

When not to speak up:

It won’t get solved until after you’re gone

Often times, the choices we make now don’t affect our lives until several years later. Therefore, if you’re raising concerns in the office, consider how long it will take for that change to be implemented. Will you still be working for the company? 

China is a transitory place for many foreigners, and often by the time something changes in the office, you won’t be there to experience it anyway. With this in mind, ask yourself, “How long will my idea take to get implemented and is it an immediate concern? If you can deal with it until your contract is up, you might as well just sit tight.

When someone will lose face

Actions have consequences, and so too can speaking up in a Chinese office. Sometimes it’s only afterwards that we realize we should have kept quiet, especially when speaking up has caused conflict with another colleague. Always think about the risk of speaking up vs. the reward of doing so.

For example, I used to work for a magazine, the layout and design of which I thought looked dated. I brought it up to our boss and showed her some more modern-looking magazines. Although she agreed with my conclusion, however, the proposed changes were ultimately shut down because the graphic designer’s feelings were hurt. He lost “face” and I ended up looking like the bad guy.

Would the magazine have looked better with an updated layout? I think so. Did the layout affect my salary or my ability to write articles? No. Should I have brought it up in the first place? Let’s just say I learned from my mistake.

It’s just not worth it

Many of us have ideas, but often, we overlook the logistics of those ideas in favor of the end result. Ideas can take time, effort, money, and a period of adjustment which, when combined, may not be worth the end result.

In addition to this, perhaps your idea will make things easier for you but could bring problems or more work in another department or affect your clients. In a situation like this, although you might be looking out for yourself or your team, it’s best to consider how your idea will affect others. Solving issues for yourself at the expense of your colleagues will not make you very popular.

Navigating the “should I or shouldn’t I?” of speaking up in a Chinese office can be challenging. However, if you keep the guidelines mentioned above in mind, you should hopefully be able to make some positive changes without upsetting the balance.

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Keywords: Chinese office

2 Comments

All comments are subject to moderation by eChinacities.com staff. Because we wish to encourage healthy and productive dialogue we ask that all comments remain polite, free of profanity or name calling, and relevant to the original post and subsequent discussion. Comments will not be deleted because of the viewpoints they express, only if the mode of expression itself is inappropriate.

1

RandomGuy
comment|76019|1589639

Honestly as a foreigner in a Chinese office there is no reason to follow the rules, you won't get promoted or rewarded anyway no matter how much buttocks you kiss.

Jun 03, 2019 19:37 Report Abuse

2

kalvinericlow
comment|76014|1822268

Wow, very useful article! Thank you for writing this, it will be very helpful

Jun 01, 2019 13:51 Report Abuse