The 5 languages of appreciation in China

Dr. Paul White, who co-authored with Dr. Gary ChapmanThe 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace: Empowering Organizations by Encouraging People,” left a comment on my post about the book. He asked about the cross-cultural applicability of the 5 Languages.

I would like to respond and say a few words here. Since I am more familiar with China where I grew up, I will use China as an example.

I think human beings have the same needs and wants no matter where they are from and where they live. Everyone desires to be loved and to be appreciated by others, and desires to love and appreciate others, expressed in these 5 languages. So the 5 languages of love and appreciation concept should be applicable in all cultures.

But cultural differences do affect how the 5 languages are played out in life.

In China, position and power dominate the relationships in the workplace. The concept of servant leadership is non existing. Whoever has a higher position has power over the people below him. Employees are to serve the people in power who don’t see a need to appreciate their employees. The attitude of most leaders/managers/business owners is “You should be thankful that you have a job and work here.” In most cases, you need to know someone, bribe someone in order to get a good job.

So in terms of showing appreciation in the workplace, it’s not managers/supervisors, but employees who need to express appreciation to the people in power in order to get a better job, get a promotion, and to win favors.

As my brother recently told me: “If my boss asks me (not someone else) to do something, especially something personal for his family, I feel appreciative because I have a chance to serve him and I feel trusted.”

While I see a good balance of using all the 5 languages in the US (except physical touch in the workplace), that’s not the case in China.

The predominant language of love and appreciation is tangible gifts. People love to give gifts, or to be more accurate, they feel obligated to give gifts. They feel obligated to give gifts (often times cash, gift cards) to people in power, to teachers, to doctors, and others in order to win favors.

Chinese people are not huggers and are not physically and emotionally expressive aspeople in the western culture. So physical touch is not a primary language in the Chinese culture. Family members don’t usually hug each other, let along in the workplace. A handshake is what most people do.

Words of affirmation, quality time and acts of service are not as important as tangible gifts, but used more than physical touch.

I don’t think people in China write thank-you cards as they do in the US. They express their love and appreciation (whether out of heart or oblication) through tangible gifts. Usually no words need to be said.

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