As a foreigner in China, it’s likely you’ll stand out in the Chinese workplace whatever you do. The question is, are you standing out for the right reasons? When starting a new job in China, think of yourself as a blank canvas. The way you interact with other people, how you communicate, your enthusiasm for work and the contributions you make will all play a decisive role in what that canvas looks like to your boss and your peers. To ensure you’re at the top of your game, here are some pro-tips to help you truly maximize your potential in any China job.
Utilize Your Downtime
If you’re not sure whether or not you have “downtime” at work, ask yourself if you ever think, “I’m so bored, I have nothing to do”. Of course you have downtime! Using this less-busy time well can lead to a more productive now and a much brighter future. Make an effort to never look/be idle in the Chinese workplace. Rest assured, your superiors will notice the moment you take your foot off the gas.
One of the best things for a foreigner in China to do during downtime is to study Chinese. It’s one of those things that we all promise ourselves we’ll do more of but never get around to actually doing. Furthermore, if your boss stumbles across you cramming characters during office hours it’s likely he/she will let it slide. Language skills are a huge asset for any foreigner in a Chinese work environment. Here are some handy online tools for learning Chinese to get you started.
Another option is to take free online classes or simply watch short video tutorials to gain skills that would be useful to your job. It might sound a bit over keen, but mastering Photoshop will get you a lot farther than browsing Reddit.
Never rest on your laurels in the Chinese workplace. There’s always more things to do and better ways of doing them. Work on creating documents and procedures that will make your and the company’s life easier. Think pre-made spreadsheets, invitation letters, confirmation e-mails, flowcharts etc. Sketch out your plans for current projects and prepare analysis on those you’ve finished in advance of being asked. Your future self will thank you when your boss calls a meeting out of the blue.
Make Suggestions (carefully)
When you start a new job there’s often a period of adjustment where you just go with the flow, whether you think things could be done better or not. This is the right attitude to have, as only when you’ve learned the ropes completely can you start thinking about moving them around. Speaking from personal experience, however, there will reach a point when you’ll finally be compelled to make suggestions to your new employer. Companies often rely on consumer feedback, but employee, especially new employee, feedback is also valuable. You’ll need to get the balance right though in order to make a positive suggestion without insulting the business or stepping on anyone’s toes.
Firstly, understand who you’re communicating with and act accordingly. If your intent is to propose a new way of doing something to the boss, have evidence prepared. Your opinion will only get you so far. Give solid examples of other companies doing something similar and succeeding and your boss will be more likely to listen. Personally, I’ve found that people, particularly managers, don’t like to feel criticized. To minimize that, start off with something positive before transitioning towards the weak point.
Work on Your ‘Soft Power’
It’s easy to feel isolated as a foreigner in the Chinese workplace, but changing that isn’t as difficult as it might seem. Making an effort to talk to, get to know and collaborate with your colleagues won’t go unnoticed, even if your language skills are massively limited. Furthermore, if you strive to make yourself available to them, such as offering help or taking the time to teach them something new, your workmates (and your boss) will quickly see your value to the company. Cultivating a relationship with colleagues outside the office can also make a big impact during work hours. The concept of “guanxi” is incredibly important in China. You’ll find people you have guanxi with are easier to communicate with, more open to suggestions and more willing to help if you need a favor.
Being flexible is crucial when working in a culturally and linguistically different environment. You may have set ideas about how you like to work and what you think should be done, but remember that you’re trespassing on somebody else’s turf. Keep an open mind and be prepared to try working differently. Who knows, you might find the Chinese way is best.
In closing, I’ll just say that working in China will definitely leave an indelible impression on you. But by putting the aforementioned tips into action, you might just end up leaving a positive impression yourself.
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