#XYNTEOLIFE: What's missing from the Europe-China business relations?

23 Oct 2018

OuyangOn the heels of the 69th National Day of the People's Republic of China, insights advisor, Ouyang Xin, reflects on the influence of cultural contexts and business methods on the Europe-China business relations. In her experience working in Europe for the last 6 years, Ouyang has noticed several approaches to work here that are distinct from those she had encountered in China. Apart from the obvious cultural differences, she says factors such as the differences in decision-making, pace of work and understanding the scope of customer-service are key to business ties between the two geographies. Since China and Europe share extensive common interests and are actively discussing the possibility of free-trade relations, an understanding of the dynamics and motivations which drive business on either side will help strengthen the Europe-China ties. Owing to lenient legislation, China has now become one of the largest investors in Europe. For instance, according to a study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, in the past decade, Chinese companies have acquired stakes in 13 ports in Europe, including in Greece, Spain and, most recently, Belgium. Those ports handle approximately 10 per cent of Europe's shipping container capacity. European companies, although equally eager to invest in China, face greater challenges when it comes to language and communication. Emphasising the importance given to tangible accomplishments over communications in China, Ouyang refers to a Chinese saying, "You don't trust people who tell stories, you trust those who take actions". This is evident in business as well. However, at times, that quality acts as a roadblock for them when they try to win the trust of their European counterparts. According to Ouyang, efforts to dispel the perceptions created by media are often focused on highlighting best practices. "What the Chinese businesses really need is a deeper focus on reinventing the wider narrative about their business practices, goals and cooperation," she adds. However, communication appears to stop at what seems like transliteration, not translation of thoughts or beliefs in a language that is commonly used locally. Two parties operate in total different language systems and culture contexts, and there is often a need for a facilitator who understands the difference in between to bridge the gap. Ouyang quotes Jack Ma as an exceptional Chinese business leader who speaks and expresses himself in a global language. Bilateral success, Ouyang points out, also rests on an effort by the European businesses to adapt and match the fast-paced and practical working style of their Chinese colleagues. Ouyang's reflections on this topic are mirrored in her personal work experience in Europe. She finds that her colleagues obviously think and work differently from her peers in China. However, Ouyang's Chinese heritage and her strong roots in Europe have made her an even stronger asset for Xynteo and its clients. She is not only able to bridge the gap between Xynteo and its Chinese clients, but has also become a strong facilitator in our European projects: "Europeans and Chinese oftentimes view and approach issues differently – whether it's direct/indirect or lateral/linear. Having been educated and having worked professionally in both environments has made me even more aware how important it is to take different thinking and communication styles into consideration when helping clients navigate unfamiliar territories, in Europe and beyond." This is important for running a successful business collaboration where it is crucial to be open-minded about a two-way communication and adapt business strategies to work effectively on both sides. As we progress through particularly uncertain times in global politics, being mindful of each other's cultural contexts and unique ways of working will make cooperation easier.