Academic journal article The Journal of Business Communication

Approaches to Managerial Influence in the People's Republic of China

Academic journal article The Journal of Business Communication

Approaches to Managerial Influence in the People's Republic of China

Article excerpt

"Persuasion is used in helping workers to correct their shortcomings. If there are differences of opinion, I decide. I explain my position. They express disagreement but they'll do it my way."

Factory Director - 3,200 workers, Hunan Province

"If it happens that my decision is unpopular, it's because I didn't explain it well enough. So, I'll wait so they can understand. Then I will explain more."

Factory Director - 700 workers, Zhejiang Province

"The workers' union tells me what the workers need; what they're thinking. I communicate to workers too via work union representatives. They get them [the workers] to accept my plan so they will do the work willingly."

Factory Director - 2,800 workers, Hunan Province

"If we are having some difficulty implementing our yearly plans, [Communist Party] members give workers education. [This includes saying things like] 'Don't complain. Work harder.'"[1]

Factory Director - 2,300 workers, Hunan Province

While the study of persuasion and argumentation has not been widely emphasized in the People s Republic of China (Becker, 1991), preliminary evidence suggests that Chinese managers still view the practice of persuasion as important and useful in motivating employees and securing compliance with factory policies (Krone, Garrett, & Chen, 1992). Since all human communication is touched and shaped by culture (Hall, 1976), managerial approaches to persuasion in China reflect and sustain values that underlie a Chinese world view. It is impossible to separate the expression of Chinese cultural values from day-to-day managerial approaches to persuasion (Hofstede, 1980; Hofstede, Neujen, Ohayv, & Sanders, 1990; Laurent, 1983). Still, as the above quotations suggest, the effects of cultural values on persuasion are not monolithic. For a variety of reasons, not all Chinese managers will approach persuasion in the same way.

The present study extends the study of persuasion in China by examining cultural themes that are expressed in factory directors' reports of what they say to influence their employees in every day situations. Specifically, it explores the ways in which factory directors persuade their employees to comply with obligatory organizational requirements and nonobligatory organizational preferences.

Chinese Culture and Managerial Influence

Fundamental to Chinese culture is an Eastern world view that fosters a set of basic beliefs regarding the nature of various forces including the universe and one's place in it (Dodd, 1995; Kim, 1991). Chinese cultural values emerge from and sustain an Eastern world view and pattern approaches to all communication including managerial influence. The terms managerial "influence" and "persuasion" will be used interchangeably throughout this research. As understood in the West, "influence" is an expansive concept that refers to the generalized ability to change the actions of others in some predetermined manner (Katz & Kahn, 1978). Relatedly, "persuasive communication" consists of messages that are intended to shape, reinforce, or change the responses of another (Miller, 1980). The ensuing discussion will address the role of Chinese cultural values, political ideology, and management style in the approaches managers take to persuade their employees.

Cultural Values

Interrelated cultural values emerge from an Eastern world view. Those that are particularly relevant to understanding work-related communication patterns include: an interconnected sense of self, the importance of hierarchy and concerns for face. All of these are expected to be reflected somehow in Chinese managers' approaches to persuasion.

An Eastern world view and Chinese culture cultivate an interconnected sense of self. Through the family, children learn the importance of loyalty, obedience, and filial piety within a role-bound network. In the family unit, children learn to restrain their individuality and maintain harmony (Hofstede & Bond, 1988). …

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