What does the boss mean?

What’s he saying?

Since the birth of this site, I’ve been receiving a lot of messages. Some readers have asked me about the differences in the type of communication with company managers, asking me if it is usual for the boss to be rather vague sometimes on important points. My answer is simple: “It’s pretty standard! “I even attended a training session in Guangzhou where the speaker had spent an hour on the subject: “communicating with your boss, knowing what he says and wants”.

The implicit, 含蓄

Professor Pei had put the theme in the context of Chinese culture with a parenthesis on the word 含蓄 Hánxù, which means implicit, reserved. The first character 含 means to contain, to enclose and the second 蓄 to accumulate, to amass. It also designates a mode of communication, verbal and non-verbal, implicit and indirect. It is used to express emotions, reactions and even ideas. He explained to us its importance in Chinese literature and art, where the suggested abounds, as does the unsaid in language (see the article here). The Chinese world is not one of direct expression. One of my bi-cultural Pekinese colleagues highlighted to me with a smile: “The French are like children, they say everything they think. We Chinese are much more restrained. “It’s a caricature, of course, but the comment highlights the differences.

李白 Chinese poet

What to do?

Pei had asked us to think for a few minutes about how to behave in front of a boss who spoke in half-words (说半句话). The only answer which made the unanimity is summarized as follows: “It is necessary to learn how to manage your boss. “
I had a partner who fell into that category. At first, I imagined a lot of things, but soon I realized that his executives had the same problem as me. They avoided talking about important things on the phone because the problem would get worse.  Or if they had no choice, they would skillfully ask for confirmation in a message on We Chat or by SMS (before the We Chat era).  Or those who had the courage to be frank asked the Emperor to be more explicit.

Was it strategic?

When faced with complex situations, lack of clarity has its advantages; if there is a problem, the other can say that he never said that. 
Moreover, the Chinese proverb “言多语失, to easily make mistakes while talking more” sums up one aspect of this aspect in communication well, reserve is sometimes motivated by caution. I have always believed that China is the country of strategy and that many Chinese are strategists. This art of the implicit and the unspoken makes it possible to move one’s pieces forward with dexterity on certain occasions. 

Of course, the thirst for progress in China forces to forget about habits that do not lead to a company’s development. Moreover, trainers often insist on the importance of communication. Is this the end of the implicit? I don’t think so!

PS: Once again, China is varied and diverse. We should not take any of these observations as general laws that allow us to decipher everything. They help, they help a lot, but diversity forces us to be perceptive to know when they work, help a little or when they do and don’t work. In the North, especially in the Northeast, personalities are more direct… I have experienced situations that are not very “implicit” between Shenyang and Harbin… 

See the article on Subtlety in China

3 June 2020

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