People seldom trust what they don’t understand.
The west doesn’t understand the Chinese; China is unfamiliar with western culture and behaviours. Too often, trust gets lost between the gaps in understanding and hidden underneath layers of ill-informed perception.
It is considered poor form in China for business or political leaders to feature very often in the pages of the press or on the evening news. It’s behaviour incompatible with the Chinese culture of humility. In China, rare forays in front of the media by business or political leaders can be news events in themselves.
Because of this, Chinese business and political leaders rely heavily on official or company spokespeople to speak on their and their organisations’ behalves. This reluctance to engage directly with the media is often interpreted in the west as being secretive, reclusive and having something sinister to hide.
Western business leaders, on the other hand, are seldom burdened with the weight of excessive modesty. Many senior business executives often cancel important meetings, reschedule personal appointments and miss family events to make time for press interviews, particularly if the reporter is from a high profile publication.
Being the public face of a business is an important part of any CEO’s job description but perhaps some western executives stray into the media limelight too often, sailing close to vanity territory in the process.
Building trust between an organisation and the people that have a direct and valid interest in that organisation is central to both the CEO and their comms departments’ professional remits. Do comms departments forget that part of their remit, dominated as it can sometimes become in meeting the self-promotional demands of clients and executives?
The reluctant Chinese leader needs to change too and learn to deal with the very real discomfort they feel when in the public eye, especially when talking in favourable terms about themselves and their organisations’ achievements. In the global economy where China PLC operates today, and under the constant gaze of the press, Chinese leaders need to adapt to become more publicly accountable for the organisations they lead.
The modesty of the Chinese and the vanity of the west could both benefit from a cultural exchange programme.
And maybe many in the press whose role it is to hold power to account some should take a little more time to understand before rushing to judge other cultures against their own conventions.