Thursday, February 14, 2013

Chinese New Year 2013

The Chinese Lunar New Year of the Snake went off with a bang around the world on Sunday February 10 as fireworks erupted with furious intensity and filled the sky. This occasion is notably celebrated not only in China but by millions of  overseas Chinese residents from North America to South America, and from Australia to Asia.

But in Beijing the celebrations were notably muted, following government appeals to reduce air pollution which had risen to near catastrophic levels in recent weeks in the run-up to the annual Lunar New Year fireworks.

Setting off fireworks to celebrate renewal and ward off evil spirits is a traditional part of the celebration that marks China's most important family holiday.

Also known as the Spring Festival, which is based on the Lunisolar Chinese calendar, the Chinese Lunar New Year of  the Snake is celebrated from the first day of the first month of the lunar year and ends with Lantern Festival on the 15th day. In countries like Malaysia, Indonesia or Vietnam where Chinese count as ethnic minorities, the celebrations are officially recognized with one or two public holidays although Chinese-owned businesses will normally shut down for a week to ten days, this being the most significant festival of the year.

What will the New Year bring for Chinese?
In China, snakes tend to end up in medicine cabinets or on the dinner table. If you are interested in knowing what the year brings for you, you can consult an astrologer who referring to the Five Elements (Metal, Water, Wood, Fire and Earth) theory, will predict your fortune and fortell what will happen in your life in the Water Snake year.

According to various fortune tellers, 2013 is a year of yin Water over Fire, and Fire is the element of happiness so that will bring confidence to people and facilitate an economic recovery. It’s also said to be a good year for starting families as snake babies will find it easier to make friends or work for a good boss.

How to greet Chinese friends and visitors 
The traditional greeting is: Xing Nian Kuai Le (Mandarin) or Gung Hei Fatt Choi (Cantonese) to kick off the Year of the Snake. It means: May the New Year bring you joy, happiness and  prosperity.
  • Avoid saying “Happy New Year” in Cantonese which comes out as Sen Nin Fai Lok. This last character, Lok, unfortunately sounds the same as the character meaning “decrease” or “drop” so it’s taboo to a lot of Chinese minds. A Malaysian or Hong Kong Chinese will not be happy when you wish him/her a quick descent in the coming year.
Demonstrating sensitivity
These days, managing successful partnerships with Chinese companies requires continued engagement, pragmatism and focus. Differences in culture, experience, and man­agement practices mean that each side needs to pay systematic and explicit attention to clarity of commu­nication and trust-building between the partners. Many partnerships have foundered and others will certainly do so in the future—be it from conflicting objectives, lack of mutual understanding, sheer cultural distance, or lack of effective follow-through on change management.

If you are a global team leader, show sensitivity towards your Chinese colleagues when organizing phone conferences or international meetings at Headquarters and make efforts not to schedule them during important holidays like Chinese New Year.

A case in point: a well-established global company with significant presence in the Chinese market, decided to hold one of their global meetings at a time coinciding with the Chinese New Year celebrations. Apparently they had checked with their Chinese colleagues who numbered about 10 in all whilst the rest of the global managers numbered about 30. The Chinese had not raised any public objections about the date to HQ but it was learned in private that not all participants were happy about having to travel to New York, spending the most important holiday of the year away from their families.

There are numerous incidents where team members located in Asian countries routinely attend phone conferences late into their evenings.  Why?  Because their colleagues in headquarters are located more than 10 hours behind.  Wanting to maintain politeness and harmony means that they will almost always acquiese to the inconvenient scheduling. At the same time, they are most likely to accompany that willingness with an exasperated shake of the head and ‘but-I-can’t-really-believe-they’re-actually-asking-me-to-do-this’ type of disbelief.

What to do different
If China is indeed one of the critical parts of your organization, isn’t it about time you do something about Chinese New Year as the Chinese have done for you on Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving or  Halloween?  Extrapolate the same spirit to your day-to-day interaction with your Chinese counterparts.

Respect differences and cultivate knowledge of your teammates’ cultures
Whilst different cultures vary in how they show respect, following some general rules for leading and managing cross-cultural teams should help you to score points and lead to positive results:
Þ    Learn at least one fact about every team member’s culture
Þ    Acknowledge cultural differences and remind teammates to respect them
Þ    Do not overgeneralize or attribute characteristics of a given culture to individuals
Þ    Demonstrate flexibility and try to find middle ground and compromise when potential points of conflict surface
Þ    Watch or read the news from your team members’ countries of origin. Discuss cultural topics with your teammates to better understand different viewpoints
Þ    Become aware of the traditional festivals of your virtual teammates. Send an e-card or e-greeting to convey your well wishes. Send virtual gifts.
Þ    Respect different time zones when scheduling virtual meetings. Honor as much as possible everyone’s availability and time preferences.