Receiving Feedback in China. Not easy but possible!

I have frequently heard people complaining about the lack of feedback they receive from their employees or colleagues in China. Most people attributes this to the Chinese education system that does not encourage actively participating and expressing opinions (although I must say that I have also heard that this is starting to change now).

I have entitled today´s tip “Receiving feedback in China. Not easy but possible” because I wanted to share an story that Mr P. M. García Sola, Project Manager China at Kunshan Inautek Automotive Components Co. Ltd. told me some time back. These are his views on why it is so difficult to get feedback from your Chinese colleagues and his own story about fixing this (and at the end of this post there is a summary of the lessons he learnt):

At school we were used to raising our hand and saying “I do not understand that” but you do not get this in China, it’s not well regarded here. This translates later into work life. A machine operator will work eight hours a week with a machine and he may have ideas to improve the ergonomicsor machine functioning. But he will not propose them to his superior. A Chinese employee expects his leader to solve the problems. It is not laziness, convenience or lack of interest. It is how they have been culturally trained.

We need to understand that feedback and information is not going to come the way we are used to and that we need to encourage it and make it happen ourselves.

When I was in Beijing, one of my first tasks was to look for a technical team and train them. The first day I talked to them for eight hours. Any questions? No questions. They would note down absolutely everything, every single word I said even my jokes!

On the third day I had to stay on later for some work and I realized that all the attendants of my training were meeting in a room. They were sharing ideas and debating. They would not dare to ask me, their teacher, their laoshi. The following day I changed my approach. I asked them questions directly: “how would you do this?” “what do you think about this?” The first few times they struggled a bit. You could see the relief on the faces of those who had not been asked. Very temporary relief, though, because I would then turn to them and ask them: “So, what do you think about your colleague´s opinion?” After a few days things got a lot better. I have to admit that it was not easy, but it can be done. You just need to understand their background and facilitate and encourage the way you want the interaction to flow.

Summary of the lessons he learnt:

  1. Lack of feedback or opinion sharing is not lack of interest.
  2. Chinese employees expect their leaders to propose ideas and solve problems
  3. The root of the problem can be attributedto educational and cultural reasons.
  4. Participation can be encourage. It is not easy but possible.
  5. You may need to change your approach and ask specific questions so that information starts flowing.
  6. It is hard work

What is your experience receiving feedback from your work colleagues?

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