Cultural difference in business | Valerie Hoeks | TEDxHaarlem
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Cultural difference in business | Valerie Hoeks | TEDxHaarlem

Translator: Cecile Brevet
Reviewer: Christine Frey (Chime) It all started in the year 2000 I was 17 years old and I walked with my backpack through unpaved alleys
in the outskirts of Beijing. I saw men cycling. with entire closets
and fridges on the back I saw little kids running around
half naked playing football, while their parents were trying
to sell mushrooms and spinach sitting on the ground. I saw a butcher behind his stand swatting flies
that were trying to sit on his meat. Everybody was smiling, including this guy: literally sitting on his business,
trying to sell second-hand computers. Why was I so touched
by these Chinese people and their country? Was it the typical smile
that covered up a road I didn’t know yet? Or was it the energy I felt
when walking through such streets? The only way to find out
was to start learning Chinese and to start communicating
with these people to learn more about their world because their world
is so different from ours. I mean the way people behave,
the way people interact. Take this for example: (Video) a subway station in China
during rush hour. Which one of you has been
on a subway in China before? Then, you definitely know that getting
on the subway in China is not easy, but getting off a subway in China
is nearly impossible. (Laughter) People just use their elbows
to squeeze themselves away and don’t give you any space to get out. So, looking at such examples
in combination with the fact that Chinese don’t really express
their emotions as much as we do you might believe that Chinese
are tough and cold-hearted people but in fact for Chinese,
warm relations are very important. You might even say
that Maslow has it wrong. Relations are not in the third level
of human needs, they are really a necessity in life. And I believe that we, Westerners, that tend to point our fingers
at what happens in China, I believe that we can even learn
from the Chinese and how they deal with others; and if we project that
on our own behaviour I think we can become better people. I even wish that every one of you
has the opportunity to fly to China once in their life time, not just to climb the great wall
but to really listen to the Chinese to what they have to say. Why is it that the relationship
in China is so important? Still, nowadays, many Chinese
are strongly influenced by the thoughts of a man named Confucius. His sayings are really
like a Bible to the Chinese. I mean here, in the Western world, the Bible gains
less and less support nowadays but in China his saying
are alive and kicking. (Chinese) Yǒupéngzìyuǎnfānglái, bùyìlèhū (English) It’s really a great pleasure
to meet friends from afar. So Confucius’ philosophy emphasises
personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, just sincerity. He champions strong family loyalty, ancestor worship
and respect for the elderly. So knowing this, you might understand why relationships
are so important in China, and why you need to build relationships
in order to become successful. Maybe some of you
had that experience in China and then you might have heard
of the word Guanxi Guanxi literally means
connections or relationships but actually it’s much more than that. Guanxi is like how things
gets done in China. Yes, Chinese are hesitant to deal
with people they have never met and there is a long
phase of introduction needed but once you reach
the phase of mutual trust, you will find that Chinese
are extremely loyal and faithful. So, why is it that Guanxi is so different
from how we know it. I mean there are many characteristics most of them strongly based
on the philosophy of Confucius that cause these differences but there are three of them
I would like to share with you tonight. In China, if you want
to maintain your relationship there’s one requirement
referred to as reciprocal favor. “Rénqíng” in Chinese. If you ask someone for a favour, the favour needs to be returned,
eventually. If you fail to repay, this is really seen
as something unforgivable in China. So the more you ask from someone,
the more you owe them and this is how Guanxi is like
a never ending cycle of favours. Let me give you an example: I don’t know about you, but I barely remember the names
of the teachers in my primary school. My Chinese colleagues and friends
however, they visit their teachers, for tea– who are now in their 70s–
for tea every Sunday afternoon, every week, since they graduated. This is for them a way to repay for what they have once received
years ago. I love this, I love how the Chinese
have this long-term view. So, where does this need
for balance come from? Think of concepts like Yin and Yang
and Feng Shui. I mean retailers like IKEA
might use such concepts for commercial purposes, but in China these are
really important values in life. I once sat with a business partner
in his office in Beijing and we were discussing
a certain subject but I felt my words
didn’t really reach him. So he was just shuffling in his seat and at some point
he interrupted me saying: “Valerie, I am sorry
but do you mind swapping chairs, I am not comfortable sitting
in this angle from the main entrance”. So, in line with this culture, there’s another concept
that is very valuable that the Chinese refer to as “harmony”. Hé. Harmony stresses the preference
of the smooth running of a society or a group. So Chinese prefer
to await the right moment instead of pushing through
a certain request like we sometimes tend to do here. So when you don’t notice
it might come across as if Chinese are extremely lazy, waiting until the very last moment
to fix things. But that’s not the case. And if you bring your checklist
and your deadlines to China and you think that’s going to work, you’ll have difficult times and believe me, I know. So in 2000, I was travelling
through the countryside of China. and back then, people were quite shocked
seeing a tall red head passing by. At some point, I even had to help
a cycler get back on his feet after hitting a tree while looking at me. (Laughters) So I arrived in Tai Shan, a relatively
small town in the South of China and there I met a girl or actually first I walked
and I couldn’t find a place to sleep so I was just wondering around
and there I met a girl named Chen Wang and she asked me to be my friend and we just sat down
the entire afternoon in a park learning each other’s language. But as time passed by,
I felt more and more uncomfortable by the fact that I still
didn’t have a place to sleep. So I shared my worry with my new friend, but she just waved aside my question. I tended to ask again and again, but I managed not to
and just wait and see what would happen. So, after a while I just obediently
followed her for a long walk and the two hour best drive
over unpaved roads, sometimes stopped by 20 donkeys
trying to cross the road. So, eventually, we arrived
at a very out-dated school building. And on the third floor, there was a room, the size of my kitchen,
filled with six bunk beds offering space for 12 girls to sleep, to live and to study. So I spent a few days and nights
with my Chinese peers learning about their student lives
and their environment and I tell you it was so much more
interesting than a boring hotel. So, I really believe if we’d manage
to sometimes put our impatience aside and really see and wait
what would come across and if you are open
to the approach of Chinese then much more beautiful
things come to you. So, the last characteristic that is probably difficult
for us to understand is the fact that for Chinese,
for many Chinese, making a mistake in public is one
of the most humiliating things in life. Face, reputation, “miànzi” in Chinese really determines your position
in a social network. So face depends on how attractive you are, how many friends you have, the skills you have,
the connections you have, how much money you have. Face can be earned but face can also be lost. So, in the day-to-day lives of Chinese face plays a crucial role. To give you an example, a Dutch client of us signed a contract with their Chinese local partner, Mr Fan, who’s also a good friend of ours and every body was happy because of long negociations
after a few days and then the Dutch client left
to go back home. One day, after the Dutch client flew home, Mr Fan turned to us, his face in terror, “One of the investors has stepped out.” And, of course, it would have meant
a show stopper for the cooperation. But to be honest we were really happy
that Mr Fan turned to us instead of directly contacting
the Dutch client, because naturally the Dutch client
would have become very angry, causing Mr Fan to lose his face, ruining the long-term relationship. Now we had the opportunity
to together find a solution, close the gap by finding another investor and doing this, we saved Mr Fan’s face and the business of our client. So, also here, I feel that if we managed to look
at a certain situation from different angles, I believe it would positively benefit
our business accomplishments. So, I have a picture this picture, largely projected on my wall
in our office in Amsterdam because this man reminds me of the first time
I set foot on Chinese soil and he reminds me of all the lessons
that I have learnt over the years. To have a long-term view, to be patient, to be open and to be a good listener. So, I hope tonight I inspired you to also consider your own approach and I welcome you to fly with me to China to learn from the Chinese. (Applause)


  • Zhu Bajie

    I am glad you are explaining what is so unclear to so many North American and Europeans but seems obvious to me except for the concept of guilt. 面子 is supreme but many times and more so today like westerners how one is being perceived is more important than actions. If not caught all is permissible which is not very 孔夫子 like at all. But he said that the people will reflect the rulers so enough said there.

  • MMABeijing

    "our world", "their world", "they", "we", "Confucius is alive and kicking" etc…
    It is hard to talk about cultural differences without ending up just saying  general and shallow stuff, I can say I tried just as hard as the speaker did, and failed as miserably.
    She drank the cool-aid and push the local concepts (mianzi, he, etc) when really they are universal, nothing special. China is, as any country, special and beautiful. And many country-side people are different from metropolitans, and developing countries have something that developed countries lost.
    This lecture is stereotypical TED lecture,

  • C Prippit

    I know 12 minutes is not very long, but this seems to have been more a short history of Valerie's travels rather than anything particularly meaningful about cultural differences in business. I would expect, perhaps wrongly, people to expect differences between the 'West' and China, and as a result to do research – it would have been more interesting to hear of Dutch-specific cultural norms which others in the West might not actually expect.

  • 小冷

    a wonderful speech, the speaker understands Chinese culture quite well! I hope that people under eastern and western cultural background can know more about each other and learn more from each other 🙂

  • Joshua Kuhlmeyer

    It seems as if Valerie Hoeks is describing her experiences in China rather than discussing cultural differences in business. All the while she's trying to market China and change people's stereotypes about the country and it's citizens. It discusses almost no information about business other than she is a business partner with some associates in China. She gets off topic about sleeping in a random school for 3 minutes and then continues generalizing the citizens and daily life of the Chinese based off (I'm guessing) one or two visits to the country.

  • Marcin Klos

    I don't agree that Chinese are loyal in business. I have an experience in doing business with them and I know that they are reckless. They sell the same product to our competitors ( And they tell us that they don't do that). Sometimes they copy our products and sell further So I think, the people are really nice but in business the don't understand normal, simple rules of fair business.

  • Duc Viet Nguyen, Ph.D

    In business, socio-political interaction, building trust and respects are the most importance to avoid conflict. Unfortunately, many consumers took advantage of my kindest, so I cannot be a political leader or a business man.
    Thank You for valuable video.

  • Rolando Barrios Riofrio

    ted talks??? more like bullshit talks!! Every person that gives this kind of talks, is always very excited and has lots of solutions for all the problems, worldwide, but then again they do not change anything in the World, they're just talking, to show off how "great" the are!

  • Tiffany Xia

    I have to say this one is not that good compared to the other TED talks I watched.
    She thinks she grasps the most critical thing when dealing with Chinese but these are only on the surface. The most sophisticated ones are always subtle.
    With regards to the loyalty of Chinese, it not only takes time but also efforts. You're more likely to earn others' loyalty if you agree on the basic core values while disagreeing on other less important issues.

  • Yana Tan

    why said ''we can 'even' learn from the Chinese?'' the word 'even' made me fell uncomfortable as a Chinese and I think it is not respect.

  • muhanmudin Vande

    in fact, most chinese would accept go duch in morden time. they dont know fengshui either
    confucius said respect others and others would resper youself. most chinese are affected by this.

  • Belgar

    This presenter missed the whole point. Goodness gracious western people! This is culture which is most stubborn to change and almost impossible to evolve. How can one live according to saying of a man 2500 y ago? You must be mad….

  • Belgar

    Smooth running includes repressed society, what Chinese is. No conflict means never take responsibility or admitting a fault. She will Winn a lot of clients, prove her loyalty with this one sited presentation.

  • Belgar

    And with bss accomplishments she definitely mean money, money and nothing else. Old frame on evolutionary stop….

  • popos22

    like all cultures, it has ups and downs. obviously she didn't live there long enough to really know the difference.

  • David Choi

    Confucianism is that Korea's culture. more close to Korean, not Chinese. anyway. most you are talking about the chinese culture of westerner view, is not in Confucianism anyway.

  • Beth Schaefer

    Yes, interesting presentation. But title is misleading. This is not about cultural differences in business.

  • watchingandwaiting

    To be honest, I think it's a little sad because if you live in China, you /have/ to care about what other people think about you. Not saying that the culture doesn't have some great features, but it's hard for me to imagine not having that freedom.

  • xuru Meng

    yes, I agree that relationship, actually I think sometimes also happen in Australia, to find a job or other help, while the traffic in Beijing is exactly what she said, but in many other cities like chengdu, its not the same as Beijing. and  I don't think Chinese people are lazy, cos everything is more efficient than foreign like installing internet and transporting online shopping, only take 1 day sometimes

  • Sharon Lovering

    Without Valerie's travels to China, this TED talk would not have been created by her to share this information about the people of China and their culture. Thank you for your travels, sharing your experiences and insight into what you saw, how you lived and what you learned. I have always felt that the Chinese live in the moment, and deal with situations as they come. They are much more harmonized than we are in America. I am grateful to have the opportunity to listen to you talk about your experience and offer us encouragement to visit China ourselves. I would love to be among the people China someday to learn about their country, and their culture. Thank you, Valerie.

  • Ludwig Tieck

    She affected a superior air. When she was stereotyping Chinese, meanwhile she was stereotyping "businessman" as a group, perhaps even TEDx – "X". There are so many "typical Chinese" in China like she described – as many as those "typical westerner" in this world. I believe our users can learn much more from "The Travels of Marco Polo" than from this "well-educated" red, blonde, white, precious Sinology student Ms. Hoeks. 🙂

  • Hansheng Zhou

    What bothers me is that most people want to compare western culture to other cultures, but they rarely compare non-western cultures among themselves.

  • J GRM

    Sorry, isn't supposed about "Cultural difference in business"?…. Hum, something is missing here…   You talked about your experience in China… What's that has to do with "Cultural difference in business"? In fact, you say nothing about Chinese culture, nor doing business in China as American, Canadian, Russian, etc.
    Dear Columbia Southern University, you sent me here to learn something from this wonderful speech. I can admit to you… This is a "Bu*ll Sh*it" talk … nothing to do with the title. I wasted 12 minutes and 17 second of my life for nothing.

  • Cristina Rivera

    "Chinese are extremely lazy" said no one ever lol. I don't know why she thought people would assume that. I thought a common understanding is that the Chinese are the most hardworking people in the world, or is that just a stereotype? I seriously doubt tho, working hard is such a huge part of their culture. Correct me if I'm wrong.

  • 李斯基

    YOU say Chinese language wrong ,what Confucius said is not accurately ,it's "有朋自远方来,不亦乐乎“.

  • Xiao Fan

    Very impressive video. But if I were the presenter, I would focus my examples more on how exactly the cultural difference changed the way business works, rather than explain the stereotypes. The presenter shifts the topic a little bit.

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