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Negotiation signals of Chinese business pros

Social capital is crucial in all cultures, but it’s easy for a Westerner to miss the signs of when and how to use this ancient form of social capital in Asia,

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Chines Executives negotiation

Chines Executives

Social capital exists across all cultures

All cultures have social capital, or the benefits of cooperation and cohesion in a community or group. In a general sense, social capital is what promotes unity and stability in any culture and is driven by cultural norms and collective expectations. Many cross-culturalists, as I call them, have broached the topic of what “face” is, how it can be earned, how it effects a person’s social network, etc. But what concerns me, is the lack of mutual understanding surrounding this nebulous concept.

Most of us in the West have an understanding of what it means to “save face.” In America, we are all concerned on some level, about how we are viewed by our counterparts. However, being an “individualistic society,” we garner our sense of worth, theoretically speaking, internally. How we view ourselves is what drives our perceptions of life, business, culture, etc.

For the Chinese, “face” is just as important. Granted, the Chinese definition is more of a collective concept (think back to Geert Hofstede) and is couched in how they are viewed by others. Regardless, it is important to remember that this form of social capital effects business, negotiations and all forms of interpersonal interactions.

Saving Face – a brief case study “Maybe means No”

I was all set to give a lecture on American pop culture for a group of graduate and undergraduate students at Shandong University at Weihai. My boss at the time, the Director of Foreign Services, was most excited about the lecture and marketed it as THE event to attend that semester. I was encouraged to push the envelop and give them a “real” understanding of American pop culture.

In my preparation, I asked if I could include the lyrics of a somewhat racy song to contrast the American and Chinese pop culture a week before the lecture. After playing the song and providing translated lyrics, I was told “Maybe” with a smile. Had I not spoken Chinese and understood what he told his assistant after I left (essentially that the lyrics were too progressive to be included in a lecture) I would have included them and lost face for both of us!

Instead of telling me no to save face in front of his colleagues at the lecture, he opted to give me face in this one-on-one meeting. Later that day, his assistant came to me and told me that they were still discussing the issue.I knew that maybe meant no, and was able to adjust accordingly. Sadly, though, many negotiations and contracts are lost due to not understanding this concept of “face.”

The problem for most Americans

Typically, in any social interaction, we try to look our best in front of others. In Chinese culture, preserving “face” is one way to do that. Receiving compliments, garnering the most discounts in a business meeting, or being seen as the most important or most knowledgable in a group are all ways of “saving face” in China. In an effort to “give face,” most Chinese will not say “no” to you. Instead, noncommittal phrases like “Maybe” and “we’ll see” are used. This has been the bane of my existence in some business meetings.

While it’s all well and good to understand the cultural differences and business implications, a number of my counterparts and even clients have felt uneasy about adhering to or taking a culturally sensitive stand. The number one issue I hear is that they (the American) feels like they are not only lying to themselves but to their potential business associate. It feels fake or phony to say “maybe” when they know for a fact the answer will be “no.” Another issue I’ve seen is that some Western businesspeople interpret the situation as coddling.

I can see how it can be perceived this way, but urge people to use their best, culturally sensitive judgement. If saying “maybe” to answer a definitively “no” question makes them feel dubious, then instead answer with a “we’ll look into it,” “let’s discuss it later,” or “I’ll do my best”.

Key takeaways

[ba-list style=”note”]

  • The concept of “face” is not to be confused with “check your morals at the door,” but should be seen as a way to mutual preserve the business relationship.
  • “Face like any currency, can be earned, lost or given.
  • If you are relying on a local Chinese translator while in China to negotiate a business arrangement, be aware they may be more concerned with the process rather than the end goal.
  • If you find you aren’t getting the straight answer you seek, try breaking down the request (terms, length of contract, desired outcomes, etc) into smaller, easier to digests bites of information.

[/ba-list]

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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Business News

What COVID-19 measures do workplaces have to take to reopen?

(BUSINESS NEWS) Employers can’t usually do medical screenings – but it’s a little different during a pandemic.

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COVID-19 temp gun

Employers bringing personnel back to work are faced with the challenge of protecting their workforce from COVID-19. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) have issued guidelines on how to do so safely and legally.

Employee health and examinations are usually a matter of personal privacy by design through the American’s with Disabilities Act. However, after the World Health Organization declaration of the coronavirus as a pandemic in March, the U.S. EEOC revised its guidance to allow employers to screen for possible infections in order to protect employees.

Employers are now allowed to conduct temperature screenings and check for symptoms of the coronavirus. They can also exclude from the workplace those they suspect of having symptoms. The recommendations from the CDC also include mandatory masks, distant desks, and closing common areas. As the pandemic and US response evolves, it is important for employers to continue to monitor any changes in guidance from these agencies.

Employers are encouraged to have consistent thresholds for symptoms and temperature requirements and communicate those with transparency. Though guidance suggests that COVID-19 screenings at work are allowed by law, employers should be mindful of the way they are conducted and the impact it may have on employer-employee relations.

Stanford Health Care is taking a bold approach by performing COVID-19 testing on each of its 14,000 employees that have any patient contact. They implemented temperature scanning stations at each entrance, operated by nurses and clinicians. The President and CEO of Sanford Health Care said, “For our patients to trust the clinical procedures and trials, it was important for them to know that we were safe.”

Technology is adapting to meet the needs of employers and identify symptoms of COVID-19. Contactless thermometers that can check the temperature of up to 1,500 people per hour using thermal imaging technology are now on the market; they show an error margin of less than one-tenth of a degree Fahrenheit. COVID-19 screening is being integrated into some company time-clocks used by employees at the start and end of each shift. The clocks are being equipped with a way to record employee temperatures and answers to a health questionnaire. Apple and Google even collaborated to bring contact tracing to smart phones which could help contain potential outbreaks.

Fever, coughing, and difficulty breathing are the three most common symptoms of COVID-19. Transmission is still possible from a person who is asymptomatic, but taking the precautions to identify these symptoms can help minimize workplace spread. This guidance may change in the future as the pandemic evolves, but for now, temperature checks are a part of back to work for many.

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Technology that may help you put the “human” back in Human Resources

(BUSINESS NEWS) Complicated application processes and disorganized on-boarding practices often dissuade the best candidates and cause new hires to leave. Sora promises to help with this.

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employee hiring

Even in a booming economy, finding the right applicant for a role can be a drawn-out, frustrating experience for both the candidate and the hiring manager. Candidates submitting their resume to an automated HR system, designed to “seamlessly” integrate candidates into their HRIS accounts, face the interminable waiting game for feedback on whether they’re going to be contacted at all.

Ironically, this lack of feedback on where a candidate stands (or even if the resume was received at all) and a propensity for organizations to list roles as “Open Until Filled”, overwhelms the hiring manager under a mountain of resumes, most of which will not be reviewed unless there is a keyword match for the role. And if they do somehow manage to see the resume, studies indicate that in less than 10 seconds, they’ll have moved on to the next one.

The problems don’t end there, however. Once the candidate and hiring manager have found one another, and the HR team has completed the hire, the dreaded phase of onboarding begins. During the first few days of a new job, a lack of effective onboarding procedures—ranging from simple tasks like arranging for technology or introductions to a workplace mentor—can be the cause of a significant amount of employee turnover. Forbes notes that 17% of all newly hired employees leave their job during the first 90 days, and 20% of all staff turnover happens within the first 45 days.

The reason, according to Laura Del Beccaro, Founder of startup Sora, is that overworked HR teams simply don’t have the bandwidth to follow up with all of those who are supposed to interact with the new employee to ensure a seamless transition experience. Focusing on building a template-based system that can be integrated within the frameworks of multiple HRIS systems, Sora’s focus is to set up adaptable workflow processes that don’t require the end-user to code, and can be adjusted to meet the needs of one or many employee roles.

In a workplace that is becoming increasingly virtual, out of practicality or necessity, having the ability to put the “human” back in Human Resources is a focus that can’t be ignored. From the perspective of establishing and expanding your team, it’s important to ensure that potential employees have an application experience that respects their time and talent and feedback is provided along the way, even when they might not be a fit for the role.

Take for example the organization who asked for an upload of a resume, then required the candidate to re-type everything into their HRIS, asked for three survey responses, an open-ended writing task, a virtual face-to-face interview, *and* three letters of reference—all for an entry-level role. If you were actually selected for an in-person interview, the candidate was then presented with another task that could take up to two hours of prep time to do—again, all for an entry level role.

Is that wrong? Is it right? The importance of selecting the right staff for your team can’t be overstated. But there should be a line between taking necessary precautions to ensure the best fit for your role and understanding that many of the best candidates you might find simply don’t want to participate in such a grueling process and just decide to move on. There’s a caveat that says that companies will never treat an employee better than in the interview process and in the first few weeks on the job—and that’s where Sora’s work comes in, to make certain that an employee is fully supported from day one.

Bringing on the best to leave them without necessary support and equipment, wondering at the dysfunction that they find, and shuffled from department to department once they get there creates the reality and the perception that they just don’t matter—which causes that churn and disconnect. Having your employees know that they matter and that they’ll be respected from day one is a basic right—or it should be.

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Business News

Trader Joe’s doesn’t want to change its controversial brand names

(BUSINESS NEWS) Branding has gone through a major change recently and many companies are agreeing to shifts, but Trader Joe’s thinks its names are fine.

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trader joes branding

In the last few months our country has gone through a complete re-evaluation of their societal impact with their branding names. Companies that have been strong for neigh on a century are changing their names to accommodate more socio-intelligent content. Whether its from real change or from following the societal trends, the gambit of following the socio-economic climate is becoming a common theme. However the world turns next, the changes we are seeing now is creating a new world of products and status quo.

One company, though, is standing strong with their branding. Trader Joe’s, a grocery store chain, is sticking to its guns, despite some rather vocal push back. A petition aimed at the stores “racist” branding name habit has started making its way through the internet. Currently the petition has crossed the 5000-signature threshold and is getting close to its 7500 goal on change.org.

The habit of using phrases like “Trader Jose” or “Trader Ming’s” in their international food products is the main point of contention. The people behind the petition state that using names like this makes those items appear to be exotic or out of the norm like the original/traditional brand Joe – which at its very basic definition is truthful. The branding technique brands something as different than the original.

Initially a company spokesperson stated that the names were in the process of being changed, but less than a week later their tone changed. Trader Joe’s now states that while they “want to be clear; we disagree that any of these labels are racist.” They will not be changing things based on petitions. Also they report that “decades ago, our Buying Team started using product names, like Trader Giotto’s, Trader Jose’s, Trader Ming’s, etc.

We thought then – and still do – that this naming of products could be fun and show appreciation for other cultures”. According to their current reporting they have also reached out to their customer base and supposedly many customers reaffirmed “that these name variations are largely viewed in exactly the way they were intended – as an attempt to have fun with our product marketing”.

Personally, I see two major issues here. First, they are literally talking about a branding that is decades old; habits that were comedic then are now seen in a very different light. Just like an organism, society grows and changes too. If they can’t come up with new gimmicks to make themselves more popular and fresher, then they’ll most likely fall by the wayside as it is. The other issue is that their polling was specifically geared towards their current buyers; they asked their own customers whether they found this offensive. Can we all just take a collective deep breath and say biased please? Whether or not they decide to stick to their guns here is going to lay some groundwork in the future.

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