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Chinese developers work in silence

So far I have visited offices in Shenzhen, Xi’an, Shanghai and Beijing where thousands of software developers work.

They all work in complete silence.

Some of the offices have single person cubicles to use the existing floor space in the most efficient way to allow putting the maximum amount of desks in a given room. Others have cubicles for multiple persons where everybody faces the cubicle wall and shows his back to the others in the same space. The more nicely decorated offices, frequently also located in newer buildings, have long desks for multiple persons on either side and facing each other.

Initially I assumed that the cubicles itself were blocking communication and therefore nobody was talking to their coworker. I also observed that the cubicle workers were using extensively electronic chat tools to communicate. What especially struck me as a bit odd is that even those in the group cubicle were chatting through their computers in writing to each other. They could have simply rotated their chairs to have a face to face conversations. Their physical distance is just 2m at most.

In the more open and even in the really open workspaces the situation is the same. No conversation. The only sound one hears is typing, walking and chairs moving around.

People do get up and have group meetings in front of a whiteboard. But when they do it is one person doing the talking and others listen or answer questions from the one with the pen in hand.

Educated to listen, obey and perform tasks

Workshops that I’ve been doing start also with a lot of silence. People sit and watch attentively what the teacher is doing. They don’t interact. At least not initially. It takes some effort to make them show some emotion and actively participate. There is some confusion on their part what they should do. It feels like workshop were an unknown concept and they seem to expect a lecture.

I’ve been told that the school system trains people to behave like that. At a young age Chinese learn to sit still and listen to the teacher. The teacher tells them about the subject and the pupils are expected to absorb the teacher’s knowledge. At some point there will be a test and the pupils are expected to reproduce the teacher’s knowledge - as accurately as possible. My sources tell me that interpretation or processing of the presented information is not expected and actively discouraged. That continues in University and then people behave as adults in a corporate context the same way.

So it is totally normal to listen to a superior, now called a leader or manager, obey his rules and perform assigned tasks.

No need to talk. No need to ask. Just do. And don’t disturb the others.

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