Monday, April 16, 2018

N - Nope

Living in China has definitely had its challenges. I have written about many of them several times, but I'm not going to get into those again here. It has also had many advantages and my wife and I can both say that we have learned a lot.

One of the areas where I feel like I have grown has been developing the ability to say "NO".

As long as I can remember, I have been what many would call a people-pleaser. I just want everyone to be happy. I accept invitations to things I really don't want to go to. I get roped into helping people move. I take on projects at work that are not my job or sometimes even beyond my expertise. I join clubs I'm not really interested in. I agree to many things that I would never come up with or do on my own.

Being willing to help out in general sounds like a good trait to have and it definitely has its perks while scoring you lots of points with friends and employers. However, it has a major disadvantage if not kept in check.

I often find myself stretched way too thin and over-stressed.

This is something I have been aware of for years and have been actively trying to combat it, but since coming to China, I've really gotten a handle on it. Here's how it came about.

As a brand-new foreigner in a strange country, I often had no idea what was going on. Plus, I was always trying to be super-aware and sensitive to cultural differences. And there are plenty. The most difficult for me to adjust to was the method of communication. Without getting into all the nuances of how this works, let me just give my early perception.

Chinese people don't like to tell you anything.

Now, this is not true, but it certainly seemed that way. Especially at work. My boss would withhold information that I felt I needed to know. For example:
  • my work schedule
  • holidays
  • changes in pay
  • corporate policies
  • upcoming commitments
  • class cancellations
The list could go on and on. All of these issues are rarely problems today, but when I first got here, it was maddening. Basically, this breaks down to a difference in cultural expectations. These are all things that I felt I needed to know. However, the typical Chinese employee would never demand these things of their boss. They just do what they're told.

When I first arrived, huge projects would be dumped on me with no advance notice and I would just do it while complaining only to my wife. I would get up early to go to work only to discover upon arrival that it was a holiday. Not being Chinese, I'm not familiar with their holidays and no one ever informed me of anything.

Part of the reason I did this was because I am a people-pleaser. I wanted to be a good little employee. But I was also a little terrified. I'm clear on the other side of the world with very little money. I just couldn't afford to rock the boat and possibly lose my job and get deported.

After a few months, I began to realize that finding work as a white-faced, native English speaker in China is as easy as getting wet when it rains. Jobs just fall into your lap. Seriously, I am offered three or four jobs a week every week.

Once I realized that I could have another job within hours if I lost the one I had, the fear was gone and I started to speak up. When my boss told me that I had to do a presentation to the Chinese English teachers at another school the next morning, I told her I couldn't do it.

This concept was very difficult for her to understand. We talked for over twenty minutes with her wording it in different ways before she finally realized that I was flat refusing and would not budge. I told her that the magnitude of what she wanted done required at least a week's notice if she wanted anything of quality. I was tired of doing crappy work that I hadn't had time to prepare for.

She was dumbfounded because she was not accustomed to employees telling her no, but I stuck to my guns. Soon, I started refusing to go to extra meetings. I did this because the meetings were all in Chinese and I do not speak Chinese. There was no point in me being there, especially since nothing being discussed pertained to me anyway.

I started saying no to going to their extra events just so they could show off their foreign teacher. Unless they wanted to pay me extra (which they didn't).

I studied my contract and learned exactly what my responsibilities were and I did them well, but if they wanted extra I had some conditions.
  • I had to agree to it
  • I had to have proper advance notice
  • They had to pay for it
Since making these changes,  my life has become so much better and less stressful. I've even started carrying these practices over into my personal life. When Christmas time rolled around and the invitations started coming from everywhere, I didn't just accept every invitation. I turned down the ones I didn't want to go to and made sure not to do too many in one week. Added stress is not fun.

And I've learned that it is perfectly okay to say no. People don't really even get upset. I know I feel a lot better.


  1. I can say no, but I also waffle. THat's no good.

  2. I think we should say what we want and mean it, but it really is hard to say no or yes especially to your boss, even if you could get another job easily, it would still be a bit challenging, you want to show respect and at the same time, make your point.

    have a lovely day.

    my latest a-z is: newbie vs. pro

    1. That has been one of the challenges of living here. Communication is so different here. It causes miscommunications with us all the time. And bluntly stating what you want to say is not well-received.

  3. A VERY important skill in life. Getting the tongue to the roof of your mouth to create the N & saying no! Well done! Nice post.
    Pulp Paper & Pigment-My Fiber Art Blog

  4. I can't imagine going to a meeting where everyone speaks Chinese and I don't. I have a hard enough time not sleeping through meetings.

    1. I live in China, so I completely understand that Chinese is going to be everywhere. However, I don't understand why they would think I had to be there. It makes no sense to me.


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