Bridging the East and the West
Qi, or energy and spirit, is a sacred thing to be protected and nurtured in Chinese culture. Qi, quite simply put, is the breath which is vital to all life forms. As any entrepreneur will tell you, a business is a living, breathing thing. The Chinese would agree, asserting that business requires care and feeding, as any other relationship does. In my cross-cultural interactions, I’ve noticed a deep carry over of this spiritual philosophy in other areas of life. When it comes to business, three main spiritual, mental, and economic convergence points emerge.
A fundamental ideology repeated throughout Chinese culture is one of balance: male/female, yin/yang, old/young, new/old. Sickness is a result of qi being out of balance. The same is true for business. Stalled negotiations, miscommunication problems, and lack-luster leadership all stem from a misalignment of qi. Many Westerns loose sight of how important balance is to the Chinese, especially in business. I’ve seen it play out in a myriad of scenarios. From a Chinese manager being incentivized by more time with his family (as opposed to more money) to the need to have planned, social functions with co-workers after work. Realigning this business qi, requires taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture.
Qi has a similar ebb and flow movement as water. The tide comes in and goes out, as such there is an underlying expectation of reciprocity in most relationships. This is where “quanxi” becomes very useful and evident in all interactions, from personal to professional. I’ve had Western businessmen complain of feeling like a business deal was headed south due to an unrealistic expectation of a freebie because of their supposed friendship. I’m quick to remind international and cross-cultural businessmen that this idea of reciprocity isn’t one of ill-intent. The ultimate goal of calling in a favor is being able to return the favor. When it comes to reciprocity, the Chinese culture prides integrity, honesty and genuine concern for another’s well fair.
The far reaching extent of qi into every area of life is quite incredible. It is believed that qi is not only responsible for your overall life force or energy level, but also your health, wealth and interpersonal relationships. The qi of Chinese Business is one of mutual benefit. Because business and life aren’t mutually exclusive, parties tend to strive for mutual benefit in a given situation. All aspects of life are inherently interwoven. A successful business meeting or undertaking has benefit in other areas or one’s life.
This all-encompassing way of viewing life-work-self trifecta gives much insight into not only the desired outcomes and goals for conducting business in China but also the underlying motivations for how approach cross-cultural business situations with style.