In this article we look at ‘Face’ and explore what it is and why it is important for owner directors to be aware of it if they wish to be successful in China.

Sometimes it’s hard to adapt our work behaviours, but getting cultural communication wrong can undermine lots of hard work in the first place – so a little time spent understanding cultural influences is time well spent.

First, we feel it is easier to understand Face by an changing the translation of ‘minazi’ to perhaps ‘reputation.’ Seen from this perspective, it is a little easier for non-Chinese to adjust their behaviour and act appropriately.

In essence, the key is to try and enhance a person’s reputation in the eyes of their employees – particularly a boss or decision maker linked to your venture. Whilst in some ways this might be seen as simply being ‘polite’ it is important to understand that this goes much deeper in Chinese culture and represents an integration of their standing in society.

Whilst this does not seem too difficult to follow, it can start to become harder to navigate as and when you start to disagree with what is being said, particularly if that point might link to the quality of your production. Should you openly challenge what has been said, it could be the start of problems. Don’t look for allies from his technical team because they will be actively trying to stay out of the situation.

There are of course different ways of saying that you disagree – a Chinese way would be to nod, smile and say little. An alternative could be to look to divert the conversation away from the subject whilst making a note to deal with the issue at a later date with different employees. There is nothing wrong in asking a supplier to duplicate your quality procedure – provide it in writing and ask that they quote based on this method.

Another consideration links to what you see at a factory – whilst we appreciate it is hard to visit at the moment, be cautious on assumptions of how equipment is used and the associated procedures. Provide your host with the opportunity to talk about the equipment so that you can make up your own mind as to whether they know how it works.