A Good Time for Transparency

What does Word4Asia Consulting do? We help quality non profits who wish to work in mainland China.  It’s important that you understand this in order to appreciate what I am about to share. My words are specific to Westerners who wish to work in/ serve China.  When I speak of transparency I am not using it as a synonym for integrity or honesty. Hopefully, that is a given at least on the part of our clients. Please see the IMC code of ethics.  I am stressing there has perhaps never been a more timely moment for corporate transparency than now. For the following reasons: 

  1. Political tensions between China and USA as two dominant international powers.
  2. Recent news stories about spying and digital espionage.
  3. Out inter-connected world where virtually everything we say and do is known or could be known.
  4. Cameras and audio monitoring are everywhere. Phone apps track every step we take and GPS monitors every mile we drive.
  5. Health concerns/ Covid 19 has created distrust and genuine fear in some people.
  6. Computers; they make all the above factors eternal and retrievable. 
China and USA relations concept. China and US of America flags on metal gears. 3d illustration

 Some organizations may see the above list as a call for greater guile, sneaking and enhancing security.  While there is nothing inherently wrong with appropriate security procedures, sneaking around and deceit are not a good strategy for a productive, long term business relationship in China.  I suggest you consider the following guidelines. 

  1. Decide who you are and what you wish to do, and then declare it and stay in your lane. This is who we are. This is what we do/ don’t do. This is what we want. 
  2. Make sure everyone you work with knows #1 and is able to articulate it consistently and clearly. This should be the case from the National level to the grassroots conversations. 
  3. Assign people in your organization to assure your on-line message is cohesive with your personal words. 
  4. Recognize that privacy for foreigners traveling in China is a privilege, not a right. 
  5. Nothing on the cloud or over 5G is private. Thinking out loud and brainstorming various options and strategies is fine but its best to do it at home or in your office. Doing these things on Zoom, Blue Jeans, phone, text or email may leave you open to greater scrutiny. 99% of the options we consider never happen. So why broadcast them publicly? It only creates confusion and questions. 
  6. Don’t try to hide. It is futile. Sneaking or evasive behavior is basically lack of transparency. 
  7. Accept that terms are defined differently in the West than they are in China. However, humans are fundamentally wired the same despite cultural and linguistic differences. 
  8. While we can disagree on many things, we should be gracious, loving and respectful in all matters personal. 
China and US flags with a handshake on a white background

 Of course Chinese culture is most often less blunt and usually not inclined to say “no”.  Rather, they would prefer to have leaders work through their Zhong jian ren (middle person, negotiator). Our network in China expects us to have the necessary experience to distinguish ming bai(‘they understand); ke yi (‘what you say is possible); dui (‘yeh, sure, why not, I see) and tong yi (‘I genuinely agree with you’).   However, my 25 years of relationship building in China has convinced me that leaders at all levels appreciate transparency.

Initially, we may may have been perceived as naïve; However, over time our Chinese connections have learned that “our yay is yay and our name is nae.”  That, they can ultimately work with – as long as our words and behavior are gracious and respectful.  Outcomes are better when those we wish to work with discover what we said to them is the same truth we’ve said to others, and the same we will be saying in ten years. It’s very important that our actions reflect our words. We may not always get to do what we wish, but the transparent way is the best way. This is true even if we do not receive transparency in return.  

If you choose the truly transparent way, the pay off may not be immediate. It may, in fact, appear to backfire initially. However, we know that since our objective is to build, and sustain long term relationships, the pay-off can be significant.

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