When Israelis and Chinese work together, what are the major cultural factors at play-revised

I have spent hundreds of hours working with Israel and Chinese managers/ employees working together in various virtual organizational configurations.

The goal of this short post is to point out some of the main issues impacting their interaction.

The two cultures have a lot in common: a lot of internal divisiveness, “an insider/outsider” mentality in which you trust your own and tend to mistrust others; a huge Diaspora which creates a huge ethnic based network; a preference to leverage relationships ; a blunt communication style (within the inner circle) with few niceties as well as a disdain for “hot air” which both cultures see in North American management jargon. It is also worth noting that China and Israel have institutional corruption issues, and this impacts governance and management styles-one can see this manifested in a “love of short cuts and work around procedure”.

There are many differences between Chinese and Israeli business culture.

I will point out the top 5 differences in my experience:

1) Relationships in China are hierarchical; relationships in Israel are more egalitarian.
Israelis emphasize individual initiative as a way to get things done. (Israelis often view “asking the boss what to do” is a weakness.) The Chinese put far less emphasis on the importance of the individual and much more importance on command and control.
2) Israelis are suspicious about authority and challenge authority all the time. The Chinese defer and obey authority. And when they disagree, they show more apparent respect to the chain of command. This is by far the most hard-to-crack difference, especially when an Israeli employee speaks to his Chinese boss in the same way he addresses his Israeli boss.
3) Israelis hold planning in deep disdain and the Chinese value planning, albeit less than the Americans. Israelis view planning as a platform that can and must constantly be changed, while the Chinese see it as a commitment, although the Chinese are very aware that plans can and should change in a pragmatic fashion.
4) Both cultures “negotiate” everything as a way of life. Yet for Israelis, when a contract is signed, it is binding because Israelis are legalistic. The Chinese continue to haggle after a contract has been signed, via “post contractual negotiation”. This post contractual negotiation can drive Americans crazy. The Israelis shrug it off as another quirk that needs adjusting to.
5) Israelis are blunt, direct communicators who have no clue what “face” is all about. The Chinese are indirect, discrete communicators and use “face” to maintain social harmony. This can lead to a situation where the Chinese see the Israelis are chronically rude and the Israelis see the Chinese as two faced. This creates chronic trust issues which must be handled with care. This can lead to a situation where the Chinese see the Israelis are chronically rude and the Israelis see the Chinese as two faced.

In all my work over the years, the most common issue I have noticed is the breakdown of trust due to communication styles. Once this hurdle is overcome, my observation is that the Israelis and Chinese prefer working with one another more than they do with the more structured Americans or detailed driven Germans.

Revised Sept 18th
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7 thoughts on “When Israelis and Chinese work together, what are the major cultural factors at play-revised

  1. I’m an American, but the next time some organizational leader starts in with the management-speak, can I be adopted by an Israeli or Chinese?

  2. Allon, I do not agree about your no.3! Planning. If there is a plan, well – things might change – so the plan itself, especially crucial time/milestones, is not of high importance. “Well see when it can be done…” My culture goes crazy over this! We are used to plan and stick to the plan and “the art of” project management MUST have elaborated from my country back in history ? 😉

  3. Shalom Allon,
    I heartily agree with your comments. I live in Beijing and frequently work with both Chinese and Israeli businesspeople and entrepreneurs. The four differences you cite are exactly the ones I encounter during most meetings and contract negotiations.

  4. Appreciate the insight. Nevertheless, Chinese don’t like to plan. The longest plans by the government spans over 5 years. The main reason is that things change rapidly in China and hence the saying “Planning can’t catch up with the changes” 计划赶不上变化 Jìhuà gǎnbushàng biànhuà.

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