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专栏 - 向Anne提问

中美职场潜规则差异揭秘

Anne Fisher 2014年06月11日

Anne Fisher为《财富》杂志《向Anne提问》的专栏作者,这个职场专栏始于1996年,帮助读者适应经济的兴衰起落、行业转换,以及工作中面临的各种困惑。
一样是当老板,在中国和在美国的情形可能完全不一样,而造成这种情况的原因就在于中美文化传统的不同。在异国文化环境里带团队的管理者必须搞清楚这种微妙的差异。

    亲爱的安妮:去年,我加入了一家跨国制造公司,担任项目经理。现在被派往位于中国的一家工厂,这是我的第一项海外任务。这是一次有重要意义的职业变动,因为我所在部门的所有高管都拥有丰富的国际经验。我对这次机会感到非常兴奋。

    唯一让我有所顾虑的是,我被派往那里的目的是“扭转局面”,取代一位未能完成高层既定目标的同事。我曾问他遇到了哪些障碍,他说虽然自己反复解释了需要做什么,但他管理的团队依然我行我素。另外一个问题是,即使人们知道存在严重的生产故障,但没有人会说出来,直到问题严重到难以解决的程度。我该如何才能避免重蹈覆辙?您或您的读者有什么建议吗?——B.B.

    亲爱的B.B.:这是一个很有意思的问题,尤其是现在国际任务似乎越来越多。安家公司Atlas Van Lines在近期有关公司重新安置的报告中称,2013年,约40%的美国公司派驻海外的员工人数超过了2012年。有些员工会对即将派驻海外的管理人员提供跨文化培训,但有些公司却指望人们自己解决文化差异问题,你所在的公司就是一个明显的例子。

    (靠自己克服文化差异)非常困难,因为即便是经常出国旅游度假的美国人,也弄不明白如何在不同的文化背景下开展业务。法国国际商学院欧洲工商管理学院(INSEAD)的管理学教授艾琳•迈耶说:“一个重要的因素是,全世界美国人的商业准则是最以任务为导向的。管理者们专注于工作。他们的想法很单纯,就是希望完成工作而已。”

    但在其他许多国家,包括中国、日本、韩国和印度,以及墨西哥、巴西和尼日利亚等国家,这种方式却并不适合,相反,这被认为是一种彻彻底底的冒犯行为。

    迈耶说:“在那些国家,‘生意’与‘个人’之间没有明确的界限。所以,能在那些国家成功的管理者,都会更深入地了解自己的同事,”例如,经常在一起用餐,但在饭桌上并不讨论业务问题。许多美国人会认为这是在浪费时间,但迈耶表示:“其他国家的同事首先需要了解和信任你,然后才能与你一起共事。”

    迈耶出版的一本引人入胜的新书《文化版图:打破全球商业隐形壁垒》(The Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business),或许值得你细细品读。此外,对于在中国,如何比前任做的更好,尤其是如何让人们开诚布公地向你反映问题,她给出了三条建议。

    首先要理解的一点是,在中国,老板的角色与在美国并不相同。迈耶说:“中国老板更像是一个家庭中的父亲或母亲的角色。你需要了解每一个人,并且要摆脱美国管理者的习惯做法,要更多参与到他们的个人生活当中,包括解决他们的个人问题。”

    她补充道,要突破亚洲员工最初的羞涩和自我保护,需要有耐心,但这值得投入时间,因为你的投入会给你带来忠诚和信任,让人们在工作中更愿意遵从你的指示——而且同样重要的是,鼓励人们对你坦诚相待(例如,关于你所提到的“严重的生产故障”)。

    其次,迈耶表示:“学会辨认无言的拒绝。在更注重等级的文化中长大的人从小接受的教育是,对权威说‘不’是无礼的行为,你的前任似乎吃了一番苦头之后才终于明白了这一点。而这也是为什么他或她的理念或指示得不到执行的原因。”

    例如,在美国的会议中,老板通常会首先表达自己的观点,然后要求其他人提出意见。迈耶说:“在中国或其他更注重等级的社会,如果你这么做,所有人只会感觉应该同意你的观点,”即便他们很清楚你错得离谱。

    Dear Annie: I joined a global manufacturing company as a project manager last year, and have now been tapped for my first overseas assignment, in one of our factories in China. It's a big career move, since all the senior executives in my division have a lot of international experience, and I'm really excited about it.

    The only thing giving me pause is that I'm being sent there to "turn things around," replacing someone who failed to reach the targets set by senior management. When I asked him what obstacles he was dealing with, he said that, although he explained repeatedly what needed to be done, the team he managed kept doing everything the same old way. Another issue has been that people who were aware of major production glitches didn't say anything until it was too late to fix them. Can you or your readers shed any light on how to avoid a replay of the same problems? — Beijing Bound

    Dear B.B.: Interesting question, especially since international assignments seem to be on the rise. Almost 40% of U.S.-based companies sent more employees overseas abroad in 2013 than they did in 2012, according to recent report on corporate relocations by movers Atlas Van Lines. Some employers offer cross-cultural training to managers they're sending overseas, but others — such as yours, apparently— expect people to figure it out for themselves.

    That can be tough, because even Americans who have traveled a lot on vacation often don't grasp how doing business differs across cultural lines. "A big factor in this is that American business norms are the most task-oriented in the world," notes Erin Meyer, a professor of management at global business school INSEAD in France. "Managers are focused on the work. They just want to get the job done."

    In many other countries, however — including China, Japan, Korea, and India, but also other places like Mexico, Brazil, and Nigeria — that approach not only doesn't work, it's considered downright offensive.

    "There's often much less of a dividing line between 'business' and 'personal,'" Meyer says. "So the managers who succeed are those who try to get to know colleagues at a deeper level" by, for instance, going out for lots of dinners where business is never discussed. It may strike many Americans as a waste of time but, says Meyer, "colleagues in other countries need to know and trust you before they can do business with you."

    Meyer wrote a fascinating new book you might want to check out, The Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business. Meanwhile, she has three suggestions for you on how to do better in China than your predecessor did, especially when it comes to getting people to be honest with you about what is going wrong.

    First, understand that the role of boss in China is not at all the same as in the U.S. "A Chinese boss is much more of a father, or mother, figure," Meyer notes. "You need to get to know people individually and be much more involved in their personal lives, including helping them solve personal problems, than is usual for American managers."

    Breaking through Asian employees' initial shyness and reserve takes some patience, she adds, but it's well worth the investment of time, because it creates the kind of loyalty and trust that makes people more willing to follow instructions at work — and, just as important, encourages people to be frank with you (about, for example, those "major production glitches" you mention).

    Second, says Meyer, "Learn to recognize the unsaid 'no.'" As the manager you're replacing seems to have learned the hard way, people raised in more hierarchical cultures have been taught that saying "no" to an authority figure is disrespectful. So is pointing out reasons why his or her ideas or instructions won't work.

    In a U.S. meeting, for example, the boss often expresses his or her point of view first and then asks for comments. "If you do that in China or any other more hierarchical society, everyone will feel obliged to agree with you," Meyer says — even if they know perfectly well that you're dead wrong.

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