The Chinese & Harmony

The Chinese & Harmony

For a variety of cultural and historical reasons, the Chinese place a high value on harmony.  The teachings of Confucius as well as a long history of bloody civil wars all contribute to this.  This matters to you because, when dealing with the Chinese it’s important to be sensitive to alignment issues.


My brother worked with a Chinese manufacturer who supplied him with an industrial material for sale in the US.  On a trip to China to visit the factory, the whole management team except for one older, but lower level, supervisor were invited to a dinner with my brother and his partner.  The lower level supervisor was left behind in order to oversee a batch of the product being manufactured.  This batch was being made because my brother and his partner needed it for a delivery to a large customer.  The Chinese manufacturer was making the batch during the dinner and leaving the supervisor behind to show their dedication as a vendor.  The left-behind supervisor was grossly insulted at not being invited to the dinner and, in revenge, sabotaged the batch of product.  As the factory owner apologetically explained to my brother and his partner, the supervisor had believed he was being disregarded and that he had no other way of expressing his frustration. 

Something that drove me crazy working inside a Chinese company was the number and length of meetings.  A very common feature of meetings, which I had rarely seen in the West, were “information reports”, which were simply reports on particular situations and issues within the companies, as well as high-level discussions about possible solutions.  To me, these seemed like a waste of time – in my Western conception, the proper way was for a problem to be reported, solutions suggested, and a decision requested – should we proceed with dong this or doing that?  But the Chinese way was to introduce these topics and discuss them over a long period of time before reaching a decision. My Chinese colleagues explained this as a process of consensus building.  When I expressed surprise at the time involved, they all said that it was the only way to ensure that some person or some group didn’t take matters into their own hands and undermine the collective decision.

What You Can Do About It

1.  Understand that the Chinese often need time to make decisions, especially if they are big and likely to impact many people.  Don't try to rush such decisions, or get impatient around them, as this will not work in your favor.

2.  It’s rarely a good idea to create a situation where a group of Chinese people are significantly misaligned with each other, as this will slow down decision-making and generate opposition from people who feel unaligned.