Getting to No in Chinese Culture

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“Getting to Yes” is a popular book about winning negotiations, but when talking about inter-cultural communication, “Getting to No” might be more instructive. Professor Zeng’s humorous description of different ways to handle a demanding McDonald’s customer shows deep cultural differences in seeing the world. 

The American way is to stand on rules, communicating the reasons in detail. The Chinese style is to keep the relationship in harmony, even if it means bending the rules or the truth. The American way is direct, the Chinese indirect. American (& most western) communication is low context, valuing precision, while Chinese (& most Asian) communication is high context, valuing ambiguity & reading between the lines. 

But Dr. Zeng’s point doesn’t end there. His final point is based on deep knowledge of philosophy in the Book of Changes. Strict statement of & adherence to arbitrary laws 法 is not prioritized. People have reason 理(logical principles or truth)in the heart, but out of the mouth comes words adapting to each situation, to keep the proper order in relationships & the world. For Chinese, he advises to look at the reason behind spoken words for clear communication.

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