How a lack of communication skills hurts Asian immigrants (guest article)
Guest article written by J.N.
April 2010 (Ph.D. student)
In this guest article, the author discusses how the lack of emphasis on communication and interpersonal skills negatively affect Asian immigrants, both in their jobs and in their relationships with children.
This guest article is actually an email sent to me by a high school senior in response to reading my Attention: Overbearing Asian Parents article. I thought it was such a compelling and well-written email that I reformatted it into this webpage. I did not make any edits besides typo fixes and adding some links. The views expressed are solely those of the author.
Dear Mr. Guo,
Thank you so much for the articles you and others have written on dealing with Asian parents. I appreciate that you've devoted part of your site to articles on this subject and have sent your article links to some of my friends who've come to me for help with their Asian parents. I also read your article on understanding why my parents feel the way they do and agree with many of the conclusions you've come to. My parents are ethnocentric and right wing and this often clashes with their jobs and surroundings. They both left China for a better life and have been living under the spectre of having their jobs outsourced for years, often translating into pressures exerted on my sister and I. My dad switched from being a computer programmer to being a math tutor for school classes and the SAT (ironic huh?). While I am a fairly smart kid, I empathize with many of his students who have been pushed by their parents to make that 2200+ score on their SATs or the top A in their class.
One of the main things my sister and I have realized when dealing with our parents are their lack of communication skills. My parents are quick to put down the mostly white "old boy network" which they blame for their workplace troubles and such and I sometimes agree with them. I have seen racism and been ostracized because of it but the "old boy network" is part of our parent's and our making as well. When people like my parents are in the workplace, they are not exceedingly social and even their halfhearted attempts are limited by cultural differences and a fundamental failure to communicate well. Here is the crux of what we have learned about our parents and overcome: our parents do not know how to communicate well or sympathize. This goes beyond just lingual skills as there are many people I know who can make deep friendships despite their broken english.
My sister and I have commiserated about this issue and we came to the conclusion that people like our parents (intelligent, driven, technical people raised in Asia) often lack good communication skills. This adds to your argument that in Asian culture, it is inconceivable to see younger people as sometimes wiser. While reading Iris Chang's "The Chinese in America", I noticed her documentation of Asians coming to America and joining the technical industry but being denied promotions and leadership positions. While part of this can be attributed to racism, there is also the mindset they came to America with. My parents and many like them tend to believe that credit should be given to those who work hard and that social interactions should play no part (they call it bias). While this seems good in theory, one could also characterize it as "keep your head down and do good work, then hope for a promotion." How can the boss hope to promote you if all that comes to mind when your name comes up is "they're a good worker but.....I don't know him/her" or "they're a good worker but he or she is very stubborn with their ideas"?
That failure to communicate well comes into play when combined with their lack of sympathy during family arguments. Something I've noticed is not only how my parents refuse to accept different points of view but also how they lack the capacity to listen to or consider such views. While many people with good communication skills listen to opposing ideas and revise their own views or acknowledge but disagree with them, people like my parents are unwilling or unable to understand views other than their own. While it is easy to say that they simply have selective hearing, I feel that it is truer to describe such behavior as stemming from an inability to sympathize. While I agree that some cases are because of, as you described it, an unwillingness to accept that a younger person may be right, I believe that in other cases, it is because they cannot understand any opinion other than their own.
In essence, it is difficult for them to acknowledge that anyone other than him or herself may know how best to care for their child. That includes us the child. This mindset plays out in arguments that are exceedingly one sided because although we may offer ideas, the only ones that matter in the conversation are the parent's. Conversations should be a two way street in which (ideally) there is give and take and, eventually, understanding by both sides. Unfortunately, the only time I can say my parents and I agree are cases in which my opinion happens to agree with theirs, not because of any compromise. This also shows in arguments between my parents as both are unwilling to back down (they both think they're right) and unwilling to see the other's point of view, hence their rocky marriage.
By now as a high school senior, I appreciate their concern for my future and understand where they're coming from (the Mao dominated years in China) but I also wish they would back the hell off. This is America and I will find my own life with or without their best efforts to control it. On a side note, I've found the best way to get through high school is count down the days till you move into college. It helps you bite your tongue a bit when you know argument will get you nowhere and also keeps you sane :). After that, D.P.'s guest article sorta kicks in.
Thank you again for the time and effort you've devoted to helping us children of first generation Asian parents.
Last modified: 2010-04-24