May 23, 2015

Interview with Human Behaviour Specialist and Life Coach Adrian Cahill on coaching in China and cross-cultural understanding (Part Two)

In Part One, Adrian talked about the challenges of living and working in China; in this post, he offers views on cultural barriers, and why cross-cultural misunderstandings have something to do with people's thinking patterns, and then how he copes with the "typical" Chinese challenge...

Jing Yan: What are some of the culture barriers when you coach Chinese people?  

Adrian Cahill: I have always been on an international playground, I’ve coached people from Hungry, Russia, Holland, Korea, Japan, America, South America, Germany, France, Italy etc. I’ve been able to coach all of them effectively. A lot of cross-cultural problems come down to people not realizing the differences, and having expectations of many things to be the same. So, in one language, we call it a cup, in another language, a glass, in another language, it is a mug, maybe you would call it a paper cup. Whatever name you wanna call it, it is the same thing that I use to drink coffee. With cross-cultural communication, most of the time, people got stuck at the names: they are like, ‘It’s not a mug, it’s a cup’; someone else goes like, ‘It’s not a cup, it’s a glass.’

“Many cross-cultural problems come down to people not realizing the differences, and having expectations of many things to be the same.”

I guess even in the same language, there would be many different names for the same thing.

There are problems when people are generally very specific and they are really thinking about the little details, such as the spelling or the name. If you be more abstract, take a step back, for instance, say: "It’s a device or something for holding liquid", then more people would agree. When I am communicating with someone in a restaurant, and we don’t speak the same language, I can use body language. I can just point to a cup and make some actions, and the other person would understand that I want that thing. And this works in every country in the world. But when you use a particular sentence in a language, it won’t work in other countries. So if people can be more abstract and think about the big picture, they will have less cultural barriers.

What are the specific Chinese challenges then, the things that you feel most frustrated at?

A lot of Chinese are into specifics. They are into the specifics of "this is how you do it, this is the way it is done, and this is the way it should be done." And then someone from another country comes, and says:"Oh, there’s another way to do it." "No no no no no.., this is the way we do it..." There is a particular tea ceremony, and many other things in other cultures that I respect. And you may see someone from France and someone from Australia who just pour into a cup of tea with a tea bag.

Would you say that when making changes happen in China, you need to break people's preconception first? 

No, break nothing, accept everything. I accept the tea ceremony, and if I go to one, I’ll be very patient, very relaxed, let them do their ceremony, but when I am at my own place, I might just use a tea bag. To change, first you need to accept. If you don’t accept, the Chinese may be more specific, they may want to do things the way they are done before, and you will have more conflict. But if you can accept that, you then can change it, later. So firstly, how you do it? "Interesting, can you show me how you do it? Hmm, interesting, I respect that". Sometimes I ask:"Is it ok that I try something different? Hmm, interesting. Would you like to try something different? No? Okay..."

I guess you would not want to hear that “nay...”

Totally fine, because even they say no, they are probably thinking about it. And another thing is that, I like to use story telling methodology, by telling a story of tea making, it helps to explain the point that Chinese may be more specific and some foreigners may be more abstract. In fact, if people have never left where they are from, they usually become more specific. If they have been in many places, even Chinese, if they have been to many places around the world, travelling around, they may be more abstract.

End of Part Two. Part Three is coming up soon in which Adrian talks about cross-cultural relationships and what's his strategy to cope with the "copycats" competitors. Stay tuned..