My friend Xiao Wang should have scored a 40,000-yuan ($5,256) a month job as a sales director at a top US company. Instead he became yet another victim of East meets West culture clash.
The American company was a major international player and was hunting for a top sales manager who could fire up its new Chinese operations. Chinese-born, US educated Xiao Wang was more than qualified having worked in America in the same industry, but living most of his life in China. He knew the local market well.
The mid 30s Beijinger is a naturally charming fellow and after dining with him a few times I could understand why he had carved out a successful sales career. He is a great listener, and always gives his undivided attention to whoever is speaking. He has the knack of making you feel special and rarely speaks about himself. He also has an X factor, which is only discovered in a face-to-face meeting.
The US firm flew Xiao Wang to Shanghai for the main interview and the feedback was positive. Xiao Wang had one more hurdle, a final telephone meeting with the Asia Pacific sales director, who was based in the United States.
After the hook-up, Xiao Wang felt confident. Interestingly, the interviewer did not ask many questions, however Xiao Wang believed it was simply a confirmation call.
His interpretation was way off the mark. The American boss later said that Xiao Wang did not have the drive and passion to lead a new business.
This was the classic West meets East cultural dilemma in which the Aggressive meets the Passive.
I have found that many Chinese are not direct. My Chinese friends tell me that speaking your mind in front of others may cause disharmony to the group. Although there are exceptions to this rule, and the younger generation is becoming more forthright, many Chinese still believe that it is better to agree face-to-face and negotiate afterwards, than blatantly disagree at a meeting.
Westerners may consider this indirectness deceptive.
The US sales director may have been expecting a typical "go-getter" sales guy like himself. He may have been expecting the candidate to behave like he once had in previous job interviews.
He wanted a sales manager who oozed confidence, and was powered by aggression. He wanted someone who was willing to knock down doors and explain why he was the right man for the job. Xiao Wang was not on the same page. He was waiting for questions and expected the mood and pace of the conversation to be dictated by the interviewer.
Body language expert Albert Mehrabian found that only 7 percent of communication was verbal (words only) and 38 percent vocal (tone of voice, inflection, and other sounds). More than half of the communication process - 55 percent - was non-verbal, including body language, facial expressions and gestures.
If only the American big shot had enjoyed a hotpot with Xiao Wang, he would have met the real man, would have probably hired him and guaranteed the success of his China operations.
(China Daily 12/05/2007 page18)