Thursday, December 19, 2013

Are you ready to work in China?

Ozlem is one of my good friends from master class. Currently she is working as expat in China and very interested in cultural diversity. She has prepared recommendations on how to overcome 5 possible challenges to work and live in China as expat based on her real experience there. Let’s read her sincere and useful recommendations to us. Thanks for this nice sharing, Ozlem !

"Ooooo...I am an alien...I am a legal alien..." What a beautiful song!  Such descriptive lyrics! I never thought it would be my favorite song before I move to China.

Imagine a 30 year-old non-Chinese woman -almost loudly- singing this song and walking on the noisy streets of a Chinese city after attempting several times communication with the local people to buy some simple, daily stuff or to find out a restaurant to suppress hunger. Shocking, nerve to laugh, frustration? Or altogether. (?) Because this is a true story and she felt like an alien some time ago.

Even though I am pretty much familiar about Asian culture and people, for years working with/for them and socializing, it wasn't as easy as I thought before I move to China. I had chance to visit the city in advance of my moving decision, so I had an idea how it looks like at least. But the thing for expatriate in Asia is; visiting or being in contact for business purpose, enjoying the food and having curiosity about culture is something completely different than living in it and calling as "home". After the first shocking honeymoon period I call my adventure like "YinYang", nothing is pure good or pure bad. Or in other words, shadow cannot exist without light. Because living in China is also exciting, cheerful, amazing, enlarging and even sweeping sometimes. It is FUN. For Serap’s question about ‘5 possible challenges for Expats in China’ I believe my answers slightly modified it in ‘5 points crucial in China’. Let‘s have a look together;

1. Language Barrier. For and foremost, trying to learn the language and getting know the culture as much as you can is important. Chinese (Mandarin, indeed) is the most difficult language in the world. But it is the key to overcome the culture shock and understand the reasons behind the way of thinking and behaviors of Chinese people. Without that, it is almost impossible getting involve with local people and having a mutual understanding for good relationships.

2. Emergencies. Need to be prepared for the worst case scenarios. Make sure you have a list of phone numbers, addresses and people you can contact (Chinese or Mandarin speaking friends, coworkers and the Consulate) in case of a problem. 

3. Food. Chinese food is highly sophisticated and delicious for some of us. It is a cuisine with regionally-differentiated extensive options but taste is different than westerners get used to or tasted before somewhere out of China. Besides the taste, food security is a big question mark. There are several bad news and articles about meat and oil security and suspects for genetically-modified food. So be careful about what and where you eat.

4. Crowd. Before coming China, think twice when you say it is crowd.  You can wait for long-long time and may have 250 people queued before you for a simple table d’hote or a fast-food restaurant. It is normal not to be able to take the first coming metro and wait for the second or even the third one.  Remember that there are more than a billion of people and crowd equals to noise after a point and Chines people like it somehow. 

5. Avoiding stereotypes. Accepting and appreciating the differences. There are near 200 countries in the world and I don’t think there is one without stereotypes and generalizations. China is a country with a long history and a deep culture with thousands of good and some bad points, like others do. Promoting diversification drives empathy, abundance.  Let yourself transform into an open-minded world citizen by accepting and appreciating the differences and even strangeness. Remember that it is a country with closed borders for years, so ordinary citizens still may behave introverted against foreigners and let them feel like aliens :)


Ozlem ODA

-- -- --

Ozlem Oda received her Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from Dokuz Eylul University and earned her Engineering and Technology Management Master’s degree from Bosphorus University.

She entered her professional life in Yazaki Automotive Turkey which performs in automotive industry and conducted several projects in Turkey and United Kingdom. Being responsible engineer, she led the company to gain ‘Best in Class, 2006’ performance award from Honda-UK with her team. She continued her career in multinational companies such as Delphi Diesel and Gates&Stackpole Intl. in several different and progressive positions, and overseed the largest and the most complex program of the company over the global organization. Since 2012 she, as a consultant, helps the companies which have trading and/or investment plans in China, supports their commercial businesses for procurement, supplier and project management aspects. She speaks fluent English and Chinese (Mandarin).

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

As a future expat, do you have cross-cultural competence?

What is cross-cultural competence? It is the ability to understand other people from different cultures, communicate effectively and appropriately with them. It is also called as intercultural competence. If a person has a high cross cultural competence, this means that she/he is competent to understand different culture’s specific characteristics like behaviors, reactions, perceptions or unwritten rules very well and act accordingly.

Based on proposal of Edward T.Hall, culture has 2 parts; internal and external. Only a small portion of external culture is above water and visible behaviors of a society. Larger part is internal culture which is below the surface; in this part there are beliefs, values and thoughts pattern of culture. As you can imagine, it is quite easy to discover and experience the external culture in short period of time, because they are quite visible, observable. But it takes much more time to understand internal culture. To get internal culture you need to interact with culture more and have experience in different situations in work or social life. I think you can understand external culture in 2-3 months if you are a good observer. But you should spend minimum 1 year to understand internal culture if you have a high interaction with local people in that culture. Of course these durations can change based on your personality and similarities between foreign culture and your culture. If you are going to work or live in a similar culture like your own culture, you do not need to spend that much time to adapt.

In order to develop your cross-cultural competence as a future/current expat, I believe firstly you should have 3 key skills being open minded, having positive/constructive approach and respect to any different ideas, behaviors or reactions. I believe these are the most important 3 factors to be able to understand others and other cultures.

The interaction with other cultures is happened through communication and behaviors. So you should start to focus on external culture which includes common behaviors, reactions and traditions. Based on what you discover on this part, you can change or adapt how you speak, listen or write. This will be a quick win for your adaptation to the culture. Learning local language may also help you to understand the culture.

I recommend you to avoid cultural stereotypes. The answer how to avoid is “treat every person as individual” and do not make generalization after your few interaction with people from same culture. You can hear some popular public stereotype stories from your colleagues or friends around you, but please do not take them seriously. Try to see some statistics behind if you are in searching mode to understand common behaviors, otherwise give some time yourself to experience directly. Being patient with yourself and others is also important. Do not forget, that moment of discomfort is usually when you are at the cusp of learning!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Which language is the most difficult?

After 3-4 weeks learning experience in Danish language at a local course in Copenhagen, I decided to search on most difficult languages in the world. Because I was thinking Danish language definitely should be within top 3 because of tough pronunciation ! Here is the list of top 10 hardest languages to learn which is released by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization in 2013.

No surprise, Chinese is chosen as the most difficult language.

1-Chinese… Spoken by over 1 billion people
2- Greek… Spoken mainly across Greece and Cyprus
3- Arabic… Spoken across the Middle East, North Africa, and the Horn of Africa
4- Icelandic… Very complicated grammar
5- Japanese… The written code is different than the spoken code
6- Finnish… Very complicated grammar
7- German … Largest number of native speakers in EU
8- Norwegian … Most Norwegians speak their own dialects
9- Danish… Spoken by 6 million people
10- French… Official language for 29 countries

But if you are interested in learning Chinese, I would recommend you to watch this TED video by ShaoLan, she brings a “Chineseasy” concept to show that you can learn Chinese in an easy way. It is very interesting and encouraging.

Enjoy !

Monday, December 2, 2013

A great book : I Wish I'd Known That Earlier in My Career

Finally yesterday I finished reading of Jane Horan’s book which is The Power of Positive Workplace Politics.

I participated Jane Horan’s seminar when I was at WIN Conference (Women International Network : at Prag in October this year. After the seminar at break, I saw her book on one of book stands. On the cover of book, it is written ‘I wish I’d known that earlier in my career’. It is definitely creating a curiosity with this title. So I decided to buy the book to know all secrets as soon as possible :)

There are several interesting topics which are becoming savvy, mapping power networks, managing perceptions, reputation, brand management, gender and culture issues etc. In each topic, Jane provided great tips on how to manage organizational politics positively through many good case studies. When you read these case studies, you really feel the reality and find many similarities from your work life.

Especially for cultural impacts on office politics, she emphasizes that communication styles can be different based on cultures. She says that senior executives from North America should keep in mind that in some Asian and European cultures, using questions or starting off with an apology is the way to begin a dialogue. This should not mean that people from these cultures have little executive presence or weak personalities. There are also good examples related with direct and indirect communication styles of different cultures. She says that she use below chart in her workshops, asking participants to express their feelings, perceptions and assumptions when working across direct and indirect cultures. If they are from a “different” culture, she asked how they feel working in an “indirect” culture and vice versa. The responses are below :

Direct about Indirect : Not trustworthy, evasive, beating around the bush, vague, ambiguous, reticent

Indirect about Direct : Arrogant, not credible, emotional, blunt, confrontational, insensitive

If you are not aware of these differences when you are working with different cultures, your behaviors may be understood wrongly and this can impact critical decisions about you at your organization.

Personally I enjoyed to read the book and found it quite interesting. Thanks to Jane Horan! I’d definitely recommend this book for those who are eager to manage their careers in a successful way. Good luck.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Highly recommended movie : SAMSARA

Great visual experience...

Last week I watched a documentary which is called “Samsara”, filmed over a period of five years in twenty-five countries on five continents. It was a great 100 min journey to the world with full of colours from different cultures, natural wonders and industrial trends. In this film, there was no single word spoken, there were just videos and pictures. You see incredible contradictions in life styles, in one moment you find yourself at the middle of a peaceful meditation and then production facilities with human robotics.

It is definitely a movie for theater, not home-screen. Because shots are presented in crystal clear 70mm. I should admit that visually this was the best film that I have ever seen.
In IMBb, it is rated as 8.2 out of 10. I believe it is well deserved score ! 

You can watch the trial from here :

Enjoy this amazing movie..

How to Create a Company Culture?

Key factors to create a company culture

Sustainable and strong company culture is one of key factors for companies to keep them alive for long years. But how can companies create a sustainable culture? Let’s ask this to Prof. Ugur Zel who is specialized in Organizational Psychology. Ugur, how do you define “company culture”?

The shortest definition for culture is “the way of doing things”. Everything happening inside a company reflects its culture. Cultural norms begin to appear from the birth of a company. And when a norm is formed it will not be easy to change it. Researches show that a country’s cultural norm changes in 30-40 years. This period decreases to 7-10 years for companies if there is enough effort to change it.

What do you mean with “norms”?

Norms are written or unwritten rules shared by the members of a society, for example a country or an organization. The word “normal” originates from the word “norm”. We accept something as normal when we think that this is in harmony with our accepted norms. If something happens to be “abnormal” in a society, it means that it is not acceptable for the majority of members of that society. It is very important to decide about the “norm set” you want to spread throughout the company in the beginning. After norms are established among the employees it becomes harder to change it.

How can we shape the culture of a company?

When we are talking about culture, we mean “common behaviors” among the employees of the company. How can a behavior be common in a company? This is critical to find an answer. In fact, to answer to this question is easy: by changing the thoughts of each employee in the way you want. In this case another question appears: How can we change their thoughts? To do this, you have two mechanisms to use. One is communication, the other is observation. Answering to these types of questions is easy, however, applying it to real life is not so easy.

What do you suggest for companies in this respect?

If you want to change the way employees behave, first thing you have to do is to understand the “root cause” of their behavior. Every behavior has a root of “emotion” and every emotion is originated by a “thought”. This means your thoughts trigger your emotions and your emotions trigger your behaviors. Unless you change somebody’s thoughts you can not change his/her behaviors. One thing you have to do is shifting his/her thought from A to B. We call this persuasion. This is why communication and observation are so important.

Can you give some examples about how to communicate with employees in this respect?

The way of communication with you employees may be formal or informal, periodic or spontaneous. The manager’s role is important in changing the behaviors of employees in the way company want. This is why “leadership” is necessary rather than “management”. Coaching is an important skill for leaders to use while communicating. Researches show that when leaders support their coaching with “feedback” the change in behaviors happen in shorter period of time. The leaders should also make sufficient observation to recognize the employees’ development. Communication integrated with observation is the most powerful tools of leadership to create a culture.

Thanks for your comments, Ugur. I think we can summarize 3 things which are important to create company culture ;

1- Setting right norms and cultural characteristics
2- Effective communication of these cultural characteristics and values
3- Leaders should be role models to shape culture