The label „Made in Germany“ is particularly appreciated in countries like China. The German product quality is highly valued there, and the German people generally have a very good reputation.
But what is the image of German bosses in China? What do the Chinese employees appreciate about their German superiors? Where do they see a need for improvement? We interviewed 30 Chinese employees from different companies about their opinions on the German superiors they have worked with during their careers.
Survey on German superiors
The survey started in a very “un-Chinese” fashion with criticism, and, again, in a very “un-Chinese” fashion, it was no problem for the respondents from China to express their critical thoughts. They complained, for instance, that their German superiors were not tolerant enough and sometimes behaved arrogantly. Also seen critically was that some Germans in China did not want to adapt to the Chinese conditions and talked negatively about the country, even though they were not very familiar with it. However, a third of the respondents in contrast to this had no problems with their German superiors at all.
Suggestions for improvements
Is the German supervisor required to become an expert on China? More than half of the respondents agreed that the Germans should learn, in-depth, facts about the Chinese culture and, ideally, learn the Chinese language, too. Flexibility, tolerance and a certain sense of ease were also wished for by the Chinese interviewees. Interestingly, nearly one-third of the Chinese people asked for a direct form of communication. As long as it was clarified right away that the team would communicate directly, this would be the best way of communicating with each other.
The Chinese respondents were not entirely unhappy with their German superiors. On the contrary, they praised many features of the Germans, such as their reliability, diligence, assertiveness, strength and planning expertise. They also expressed enthusiasm in regard to the sense of responsibility and the goal orientation of the Germans.
Last but not least, the Chinese employees praised the German sense of justice and stressed the positive aspect that when working with Germans guanxi (relationship networks or „connections“) were less important than amongst the Chinese. Half of the respondents also claimed that in German companies the efficiency was higher than in Chinese companies. Only a quarter saw Chinese companies as being more efficient.
Findings and Recommendations
The results of this small survey are consistent with large-scale surveys of intercultural differences in the work environment, such as those conducted by Geert Hofstede (IBM study) and Robert J. House (GLOBE study). However, what is the best way of dealing with the aforementioned cultural differences and the resulting potential for conflict?
In some of the respondents’ answers it was mentioned that it might be advisable to get familiar with the cultural background of one’s own employees – especially when one is working abroad, in this case in China. Ideally, this learning is motivated by curiosity and intercultural tolerance. But for those who normally turn a blind eye to culture studying the unfamiliar culture is worthwhile, too: The growing intercultural confidence of the German supervisor and the respect of the Chinese employees and colleagues may increase the company’s success in the long term.
A good opportunity to expand one’s own intercultural competence is undertaking intercultural training in a German-Chinese group. A level of understanding needs to be reached for both sides and on both sides of the intercultural exchange. For companies with German and Chinese employees, training courses are recommended in which the Chinese employees learn about the Germans’ (business) culture, and the German employees get to know the Chinese culture. Additionally, there should be a training session with a bilateral or international group to discuss what one has learned and thereby better understand one another.
Are you interested in intercultural training for yourself or your employees? We are happy to create trainings for your individual needs. Feel free to contact us with any request: