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3 ways Chinese investors, American workers miscommunicate

The are common problems with immigrant managers, but these pitfalls can be avoided by knowing the common miscommunication problems.

Chines Executives negotiation

Chines Executives

The Immigrant Manager

With government programs like EB-5 and other visa extensions that lead to green cards or permanent residence status, many of the burgeoning, entrepreneurial upper class of China are looking to expand and open businesses locally on American soil. As such, a whole new type of manager is emerging: the Immigrant Manager. While many of these managers are driven, visionary and productive, there are some who exhibit the down side of being an Immigrant Manager.

A businessman recently came to me with a cultural query: his boss, a new immigrant from China was changing before his eyes. The two had initially seen eye to eye on projects, management styles, and the vision of the company. But lately, their hidden differences were beginning to surface. The businessman sited examples of his boss going back on his word, being swayed by familial forces, and even went so far as to question his boss’ interest in the company at all. As he described more problems and issues that he was having, I listened intently, and began to draw parallels to other scenarios I’ve been asked to “translate.” This man’s problem wasn’t at all unique. In fact, he seems to be experiencing the down side of having an Immigrant Manager.

3 Common Miscommunication Problems

1. Heavy family interaction
Having family businesses is not uncommon. The problem arises for Immigrant Managers when they let family interaction present problems in the business based on culture or emotion. The recurring theme I’m seeing is a dominant spouse, parents, or in-laws having a say in a business they have very little contact with. Culturally and typically, a good son will heed the advice of elders. This external, albeit well-meaning advice, could hinder clear communication.

2. Split focus
A recent immigration study said that the immigrants who make it to America are, in fact, their country’s “cream of the crop,” as they defy all odds to bring their dreams to fruition. Truer words were never uttered! While they are successful superstars, they often are involved in more than one project (company, joint venture, investment, partnership, etc.) at a time. Therefore, their attention and focus may be split among many businesses. So while you, the employee, thinks the company for which you work is the end all-be all, the Immigrant Manager may ineffectively communicate at times, or be accused of not being attentive enough because of split focus.

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3. Misaligned intentions
This is the biggest cause of communication breakdowns with Immigrant Managers, in my experience. The reasons Joe opens a business may not be the same reasons Jung opens a business. Remember, the Immigrant Manager is a unique businessperson. With the resources it took to get to America and set up shop, some don’t have to work at all. The business they start or manage could be a hobby or a place for them to keep busy (and be productive) while in America. While the company message may tout loyalty, focus, and customer satisfaction, the Immigrant Manager could be just bidding their time until they return to their home country.

The takeaway

All in all, the review of Immigrant Managers has been positive. Most data seems to suggest an evolved, higher-level work ethic in immigrants who are here to work. While these miscommunication reasons could be regionally and industry biased, they are anomalies that strive to encapsulate a small percentage of problems voiced about Immigrant Managers.

Written By

Monica Moffitt, founder and Principal Cultural Consultant at Tianfen Consulting, Inc., has traveled the world and enjoys linguistics and all things culture. Having split her career between project management and business analytics, Monica merges logic, fluency in Chinese and creativity in her new role as cultural consultant. She received a Bachelor of Arts in East Asian Studies/Chinese from Vanderbilt University and a Master of Business Administration (International Management and Marketing) from University of Texas at Dallas.

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