Ex­pats and of­fice meet­ings

Global Times – Metro Beijing - - TWO CENTS - By David Drake­ford

Most Western­ers don’t en­joy be­ing stuck in meet­ings that are overly long and in­volve lis­ten­ing to is­sues that don’t af­fect them di­rectly. Even if you’re keen for an op­por­tu­nity to talk, you have to pay for it by lis­ten­ing to oth­ers.

One day I found my­self in a meet­ing at work that didn’t re­late to my­self or my depart­ment. When I was even­tu­ally told that I could leave, I im­me­di­ately stood up, elic­it­ing a huge laugh from half the peo­ple in the room.

The rea­son for this mer­ri­ment was my tim­ing. The very nanosec­ond I was told I could leave, I was bolt up­right and ready to be out the door.

Sig­mund Freud, au­thor of Jokes and Their Re­la­tion to the Un­con­scious, be­lieved that hu­mor is of­ten the con­scious ex­pres­sion of thoughts that so­ci­ety sup­presses. I risked be­ing thought of as less than a team player, but I think I got away with it be­cause the Chi­nese staff had no idea why anyone was laugh­ing.

Chi­nese work­ers gen­uinely seem to be ac­cus­tomed to and even en­joy pro­tracted, seem­ingly point­less meet­ings. How- ever, for a Westerner, sit­ting through a three-hour meet­ing where no rel­e­vant is­sues are dis­cussed can seem like an un­bear­able waste of time.

This is what a Bud­dhist teacher would call “ra­tio­nal­iza­tion.” De­ter­min­ing whether a meet­ing is a waste of time is the re­sult of ra­tio­nal think­ing. The real rea­son for the meet­ing might be emo­tional sig­nif­i­cance.

Why are Chi­nese work­ers happy to sit through lengthy meet­ings? It might be to show peo­ple you are a team player, clap at the right mo­ments and laugh at the right jokes. You might also learn the real role of your co­work­ers.

My com­pany has re­cently started hold­ing “Bud­dhist­themed” meet­ings. It seemed rather odd at first, but I’m now try­ing to pick up one or two cul­tural point­ers.

Once, I walked into a meet­ing of se­nior and mid­dle man­agers that had a very ca­sual feel­ing. Ev­ery­one was seated, pass­ing around plates of sun­flower seeds, and laugh­ing. I felt a bit ex­cluded then, as I had spent the whole time seated at my desk work­ing.

Per­haps a wiser man would spend more time build­ing con­nec­tions in meet­ings and less time on what I’ve been cul­tur­ally pro­grammed to think of as real work.

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