I’m not sure how many of you have worked in an Asian workplace or if you have colleagues from an Asian country. What I mean to define Asian colleagues means that they are born and bred in those countries. Coming from Singapore myself, I have the opportunity to work with different nationalities with different cultures from myself.
The key thing to have a successful relationship with them is not only to respect their differences but to understand their culture before you acknowledge the differences. It never fail to irk me when one of my Caucasian colleagues make comments like “John will never work overtime on a project because he is Chinese.” Huh? When I asked him to elaborate, his explanation is that the Chinese will tend to focus on family life than their careers. That is so not true and that statement is bias! That’s bullying and unfair.
Another statement I came across from a different person was “I love video conferencing with the Japan office because they never have an opinion and agree to everything I say.” Slapping your forehead yet? Or how about “Don’t promote her in the Korean team. She will have a difficulty managing the men because she is a female. Korean guys don’t like female bosses.”
Of course, these 3 insular comments are unwarranted and unfair judgement on Asians particularly when it takes away one’s opportunities in the workplace or worse, costing his or her job. You won’t like it if I were to make the same assumptions towards you.
As the world grows towards developing the new emerging markets such as China, Vietnam, Indonesia, it become not only necessary but crucial to work well with the people who came from those countries that will provide you with the important insights on how to grow the company in the region.
I have seen sad cases where Asians’ opinions are not taken into deep considerations and the company just operates how they would towards America and Europe markets. Not understanding the culture in the first place will bring dire results and usually led to zero or low yield results.
So how do we approach this in a positive way?
1. Ask them
Ask them for their opinions. Talk to them and learn more in-depth about the country they are born and bred in. Approach them and ask them what do they think about the new project. They will appreciate that you seek their views.
Take an interest in learning something new about their culture. Do not depend on the travel guides or what you read online, it’s usually meant for tourists and does not give you a good feel of their background. This in turn will allow you to talk about something else when things get awkward and you will be able to do break down their defensive walls.
3. Be intuitive
Asians are not open to direct confrontation and more often than not, they prefer to let you know discreetly their displeasure or discomfort through their body language. Don’t challenge and push them into a corner, you will find them clammed up and you will assume that they are agreeable to whatever you are saying.
4. Be respectful
Please don’t make any racist crude jokes at us even it’s in a friendly manner. As an Asian myself, I lost count how many times I winced inside every time my British colleague called me the little Oriental doll. I know he was joking and he is just being friendly but calling me that especially in front of my clients just make my hand itching for a slap.
5. Be understanding
We too, want to be heard above the sea of voices arguing in the meeting room but give us time to construct what we want to say. Most of the Asians in a non Asian environment will struggle to understand the Western culture. We often don’t understand the need to be confrontational with our colleagues and we are our biggest critic when comes to failure. Westerners will pick themselves up quickly when they fell, brushing off the dust on their shoulders and take it as a one-off incident, no biggie, a shrug and proclaimed lesson learnt. For Asian, we tend to think it through what has gone wrong, how can we do better, did we gave our all to prevent the fall? And vowed to work even harder next time.
6. Be patient
Allow us to process our train of thoughts before we give you our answers. Most Asians you are working with probably are bilingual or trilingual but that doesn’t mean that our brain works the same way. We probably think in our native language and translate it back to English so we can answer you. I had that problem initially when I relocated to Shanghai, my thought processes are in English and in my mind, I had to translate it in Chinese to answer. In time to come, I had of course learn to switch my thoughts from English to Chinese without having to translate in my mind.
I’ll share in my later articles on how to manage an Asian team using the techniques above and examples on how I execute them. Follow me in my website or Twitter MiddleMe_net if you do not wish to miss it. Do leave me a comment below if you have thoughts on the article.