5 Ways Expats Can Charm their Chinese Bosses

5 Ways Expats Can Charm their Chinese Bosses
May 08, 2024 By Thomas Ackerman , eChinacities.com

A lot has been written about Chinese bosses, but generally they tend to be alternately stereotyped as either authoritarians or “yes” people. This is partly because, just like everywhere, there are different kinds of bosses in China, but also partly because Chinese workplace culture can confuse foreigners about what exactly their boss is thinking and saying. In this article, I’ll try and break down some of the most confusing local practices and bring you five ways expats can charm their Chinese bosses.

Jobs for expats in China 

Knowing how to act around your superiors will greatly impact your chances of success as an expat worker in China. Learning how to interact with authority in general will also help when it comes to dealing with the Public Security Bureau and troublesome bureaucrats you’re likely to encounter on a fairly regular basis. The following tips should keep you in the good books and, at the very least, stop you from getting immediately fired.

Know your place

Hierarchy is respected in the workplace (and basically every other place) in China. While many Western bosses will encourage all employees, no matter how junior, to speak up if they see a way something can be improved, this course of action could do you more harm than good in China. If you're dealing with someone superior, whether it be your manager, boss, a client or a government official, be sure to make a show of being humble AF.

Advice may be welcomed, but it has to be given in the right way, which is usually very softly, indirectly and in private. Criticizing your boss or the way some aspect of the company is run in public will probably cause a massive loss of “face”— and face is everything here.

If you feel you have some valid complaints that absolutely must be aired, save them for a private meeting or, better still, send an email and try to avoid being too direct. Come with ideas and solutions as opposed to outward complaints. While you may find Chinese people are overly blunt when it comes to mentioning your weight and your pimples, you’ll definitely catch more flies with honey in the Chinese workplace.

Use proper titles

An easy but often overlooked way for foreigners to charm their Chinese bosses is by using their proper titles when addressing them. In China, titles go after the family name, which in turn comes before a given name. Confusing, I know.

For example, if your manager is called “Wáng Xingxing,” you should refer to her as Wáng Jīnglǐ, with “Wáng” being her surname and “Jīnglǐ” meaning manager.

A few more examples of common job titles in Chinese are:

-General manager: zǒng jīnglǐ (can be shorted to zǒng)

-Deputy manager: fù jīnglǐ

-Deputy general manager: fùzǒng jīnglǐ (can be shortened to just fùzǒng)

-CEO: shǒuxí zhíxíng guān

-Department head: bùmén zhǔguǎn

-Chairman: zhǔxí

-School principal: xiào zhǎng

-Factory director: chǎng zhǎng

Also, refer to your superiors with the polite version of “you” (nín) when speaking Mandarin.

Read between the lines

It can be difficult to discern criticism from praise, and yes from no, in the Chinese workplace. As people tend to be less confrontational here (there’s “face” rearing its ugly head again), bad news is often disguised as good.

For example, if your boss praises your project, points out some flaws, and then praises it again, you’ve just been handed a sh*t sandwich. Learning to successfully decipher indirect communication can take years, but just keep in mind that most Chinese employers and workmates will beat around the bush if they think your ideas or work suck. Concentrate on the negatives (or what wasn’t said) and don’t be lulled into a false sense of security by some strategically-placed but weak compliments.

If you’re really unsure about what exactly has been said after a meeting with your boss, ask a few follow-up questions via email. Even then, you might not get straight answers, especially to more sensitive questions, but at least you’ll have something down in writing that you can refer back to. Also, try not to be too direct yourself when asking for clarification as your boss is likely to clam up. Cultivate “passive assertiveness.”

Get your head down

Chinese employers respect and expect hard work. Even if they've finished their tasks for the day, most Chinese workers will stay on a little later than their scheduled hours, just to show willing. Many are just messing around on the internet at this point, but no-one wants to be the first to leave, especially if the boss is still there.

Granted, this is a bit of a toxic culture that some young locals are starting to push back against, but you’re not going to win yourself many fans if you drift too far from this hard work ethic. Showing your boss and workmates that you keep busy and are willing to go the extra mile, at least from time to time, will give you a solid standing. This is especially important for expats working in China, given that most of your Chinese coworkers, and even some of your managers, are probably on a lower salary.

Take it outside

Most Chinese bosses like to take their employees out for lunches and team building exercises from time to time. Chinese people tend to think of the office as a kind of family, so outside socialization is important, even if the talk inevitably turns to shop.

You need to be a willing participant in these OOO activities as an expat looking to charm your Chinese boss, even if the thought of hanging out with your colleagues after hours is less than appealing. If your boss invites you to have a meal or a drink on your own sometime, it might also be a good opportunity to express your own ideas and concerns. Away from the office, other’s ears and perhaps with a glass of wine to loosen up the vibe, you might find communication is a little easier.

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Keywords: Chinese bosses expats charm Chinese bosses


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Jun 18, 2024 21:41 Report Abuse


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Jun 18, 2024 21:38 Report Abuse


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Jun 18, 2024 21:36 Report Abuse


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Jun 11, 2024 12:06 Report Abuse


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May 29, 2024 23:07 Report Abuse