Do not have second thoughts when insulting a Chinese. I bet, you are doing business in China at your own peril.
Understanding the very concept of Mianzi (face) is of utmost importance when you dealing with Chinese. Chinese do not monopolize this concept in the world, saving your face is a concern in other cultures in the world as well.
What is Mianzi
‘Mianzi’ is defined as the situation where your prestige is not compromised. It could be ‘saving your face’, ‘losing your face’, ’embarrassment in public’, ‘insult’, ‘affecting personal dignity’. The concept of mianzi helps in keeping a person’s value in front of others. You simply cannot lose your face, at any cost. Period.
But, there are many situations which you should know in order to avoid the situations. Mianzi doesn’t only mean keeping your face up and high but also not to let the other’s face get affected by your actions.
Chinese avoid Mianzi
Your work environment is volatile. It never works according to your whims and fancies. People do not think as per your requirements. Now, still, you have to get things done. This situation is different in the West and the East.
Chinese people follow certain protocols when working. If there are rules to abide, they will abide by not asking further questions. They obey orders from above without questioning the authority, that would mean you are insulting their decisions.
1. Fighting over food bills
This is very common. We were a group of friends from America and Europe. Chinese were our host. A grand feast was offered to us on the table. Now, after finishing the great feast, it was time to pay. There was literally a tussle between the Chinese and the Americans about how to pay for the food.
Americas have a culture (generally) to split or to go dutch when eating together. College friends or colleagues, senior-junior get together, partying out, reunions. Not with Chinese. Chinese won’t spoil their relationship with the other over a mere table-bill.
I am not saying the food is cheap in China or it is highly priced in the West. Chinese don’t consider creating a second thought about food. They are a great host, no doubt, and even greater when paying the bill.
This tussle will be there when the Chinese are partying together with other Chinese. They enjoy this tussle, the stronger one wins. They will not lose their own face over this. They want to regard high and be a wonderful host.
2. Losing temper in public
A Chinese never loses their temper in public. I mean, they have control, not that they don’t, some situations might occur but they regret it a lot.
Losing face in public might mean you are being judged by random people walking by. Shouting in public at someone else is as good as opening your cards on the table and losing the game.
They avoid being rude and choose to be peace loving in daily life. Still, some people find them to be loud! How?
3. Office confrontation
I had a friend, Meihua, who was working for an American company. Meihua was not happy working with this company, especially her American boss. She chose to resign from the job on the pretext that she had to take care of her kids and their upbringing, her resignation was accepted.
Soon enough, she had joined another company that was the previous company’s competitor. Her ex-American boss was furious at her for telling a lie for leaving this job.
But, she has to understand why Meihua lied to her boss about this. She decides not to confront her boss for the problems she was facing with her temper. Instead of complaining and insulting her boss, she decides to tell a lie about her kids and give a good face to her boss.
4. Invitation decline
Be grateful to someone who has invited you for a party or dinner, lunch, get together. Avoiding an invitation on a weak pretext is an insult. Do not negate an invitation right away.
Try and formulate your reason for not accepting the invitation. Respond with a point that is understood by the host. Yes, this means you have to lie.
To tell a lie is not regarded as dishonesty when you are saving someone from a bad face.
Make health excuse, doctor’s appointment, relatives coming over, it is ok. Many cultures around the world follow this.
Do not use words like ‘difficult’, use ‘currently it is inconvenient’.
Make things easy for everyone.
When does one loses his face?
Losing one’s face is a big deal to the Chinese. You will be disregarded if this happens with you in front of people you know. No one will point this out of talk about this with you, they will pretend this did not happen, but it surely did.
Chinese are hardcore nationalists. They are patriotic by nature, their upbringing is like this. Sometimes their nation is their Face. They do not like anyone talking ill about their country.
They want to work hard for their Country’s face. They will not do anything outside their country that will bring China a bad name.
So an employee was promoted to a general manager in Xixiang Textiles. He was recommended by the Director who was in their Headquarters in Beijing. Now after the promotion, the general manager threw a party to celebrate. All were invited but they did not invite the Director in the HO. No, they did not forget, they just thought what is his role coming down here from his HO.
This was a huge insult to the director. It cannot be ignored. The blunder has been done. Director’s face is lost.
Loosing your own face
You don’t want to be that person who is being talked about whenever you enter that dumpling restaurant because you had a fight with the server.
A guy in his office had a fist fight with his building gate-keeper over a parking issue. The issue was not a great deal and it could be avoided. As Chinese people disregard losing temper in public, they leave the situation unsettled. This was a ‘face’ situation that made the guy being judged.
Drinking in public and losing your control is yet another happening you want to avoid.
One should have control over his or her drinking in public. Seldomly you see a Chinese who loses his control after having hard drinks.
Rescinding orders from seniors.
I have seen cold wars in offices between colleagues, seniors-juniors, over orders from above.
Revoking order from above means an insult directly to the officer. You will be brought to his line in the future.
Outsiders tend to ignore this.
Loosing your Organization’s face
People in China are not the only one’s who lose their face. Organizations also represent an entity. An organization, a ministry, a department, a corporation, cannot lose their face.
As discussed above, the Chinese are nationalists, they also don’t let their nations lose any face. They praise their country and its moral values in front of foreigners.
A ministry or department cannot lose its face in front of the public. If this happens, a senior officer has to take charge of the entire incident and submit his or her resignation.
The police also do not create a scene when there are foreigners watching. They try and subdue the matter for actions laters. They don’t want to give a bad news to the world.
Truth vs Face-loss
There are no criteria of truth when it clashes with the Face. Mianzi always wins.
A friend of mine has a colleague working for his company. There was a gossip that she was about to be fired from her job. This is true that she was not performing well and was merely making excuses not to work. Now, this was a situation where she would have a horrible ‘mianzi’ situations. She was about to be fired from her job, portraying her incapabilities as a worker.
She immediately changed the tables and submitted her resignation letter on her health grounds. This way, she not only saved her own dignity but also gave a good face to her boss. Nobody’s pride was hurt. What was to happen eventually happened, but on a lighter note.
Truth is no match for Mianzi. You can lie as much till you are saving faces (not lying in actual reporting).
Loss to Nation
I read an article in the news where a foreigner got into a fight with a Chinese in a pub and he dragged the matter to the court. No body’s at fault when it comes to pub fights. These are meaningless tuffs. But the foreigner was agitated and reported this to his local news in his country.
The matter was sorted in less than a week because this has resulted in a reputation of the Chinese who represented China now. As this was involving a foreigner and he was challenging the dignity of the nationalism in China.
The judicial system in China is very strong. Eventually, the matter was solved with monetary pressure from higher ranks.
Faces were saved entirely.
It is for us to understand the differences and similarities when it comes to international cultures. No one culture is the same, no one culture has similar customs. In China also there are multiple cultures with diversities.
It is upon us to have a better understanding of the Chinese because we have to benefit from them. We should be better hosts than them. When you want to gain from their economy, you should score well.
Understanding Guanxi and Mianzi are a few loops to work upon.
Hope I could help!!!