>Hong Kong is complex because it has British citizens working in Hong Kong, some of whom might have grown up there. It has Chinese residents–either from Hong Kong or from elsewhere. It has American and Europeans, many of whom have lived in Asia for a very long time or not. And it has Chinese residents who have spent a great deal of time abroad. Sorting out culture and personality are challenging.
I was at a dinner with many colleagues recently and a Chinese colleague said of another Chinese colleague–“He still scares me.” Now I know there is some controversy over this person and their management style, but much of it is lost on me since I don’t know the language.
My response to my colleague was to say that he did not scare me, but I found him to be direct, and that maybe I was also too direct at times due to my American culture. “Oh, no. You aren’t too direct, but are quite polite and kind in your approach,” she assured me. This was interesting because several Americans have told me in the past that I am too direct and short in my emails!
She then turned and pointed to an American who we work with and said, “She doesn’t seem very American.” Well, I had to agree. I had problems communicating with this American because I had expectations of directness that were never met and I chalked it up to her spending years working in Asia. For example, when something didn’t go well on a project, the phrase that she used was, “but nobody is to take the blame.” Now that is obtuse! Does this mean that we didn’t do something wrong–it was the outside party? Or does it mean that we did make a mistake but we don’t want to admit it or take the blame for it? Or is it that one person–perhaps the person who made the statement, or someone else–messed up, but we wouldn’t want to point it out?
Is it culture, or personality? I have another Chinese colleague who I have always found to be very direct. Yet, she is very prudent and careful in how she approaches problems-solving within the institution. She is very careful to not cause others to lose face, etc.
I don’t know that I have come to any conclusions on the issue of culture or personality when it comes to communication styles I do know that I’ve given up on cultural stereotypes as being helpful. I think it is much easier and effective to just figure out what will work in a particular situation and context with the particular actors involved. This kind of cultural flexibility is useful no matter where you are!
Hong Kong is a good place for challenging stereotypes because of the diversity of the population and the complexity of their experiences.