Archives for May 2016
There are many more cultural differences in play than most people are aware of when communicating. When I used to teach international negotiations for executives, I was amazed at how even very experienced negotiators, who were effective in their own culture, were sometimes very poor when negotiating with people from other cultures.
Erin Meyer is professor of cultural studies and author of multiple Harvard Business Review articles. Her December 2015 article, “Getting to Si, Ja, Oui, Hai, and Da” addresses some of those cultural differences in negotiations. She compares, for example, the cultural propensity for emotional expressiveness with the comfort with open confrontation. Erin currently lives in France and describes the French as both emotionally expressive and comfortable with confrontation. While those in Mexico are seen as expressive, they tend to avoid confrontation. Germans are confrontational and comparatively emotionally unexpressive, though my German friends tell me that “It depends on which part of Germany you’re from.”
It’s certainly true that to generalize about communication profiles in the USA, it greatly depends on which area of the country you’re talking about. At the same time, looking at several different cultural dimensions can significantly enhance communications across cultures. To make things more challenging, individuals vary widely within any culture on many of these characteristics.
Looking at the Other Person’s Point of View (OPPOV™) allows one to look at cultural and personal profiles to maximize communication effectiveness. Meyer looks at cultural propensities in terms of communication context, direct feedback, persuasion approach, leadership style, decision processes, basis for trust, approach to confrontation, and time paradigm. These cultural dimensions, in addition to the individual’s personal uniqueness, help better define a person’s OPPOV profile.
The better we understand others and adjust our communication accordingly … the more effective our communication will be.
I work for a company that coaches and consults on workplace communication and executive presence. So that must mean that, as a company, we’ve always known the best way to reach employees who are working remotely, right? Well, not exactly…
Before virtual offices were commonplace, I was given the opportunity to try working remotely and I took it. At the time it was a pretty new concept and we weren’t even sure that it would work. This was in 1999 when the internet connection was still dial-up, and cell phones were in their primitive stage. It was quite an adjustment from working in a collegial office where there was always someone around if I had a question, needed support or help, or just wanted to chat.
Like most people who work remotely, I worked out of my home. It was a drastic change to be at home, alone, with no one to bounce ideas or questions off, and no one to personally connect with. It took some getting used to, believe me. It felt very isolating and strange. I did check in at least once a day with the office, but it sometimes felt like I was interrupting the more important work that was happening there. And of course, most work communication was done via email, so there was no real need to call anyone, was there?
Even though working remotely is much more common today, I expect that today’s remote contributors still have some of these same feelings of isolation. I have grown to love the ability to work this way, but, as I said, it took some getting used to. At that time, there was an early version of GoToMeeting, which we used for a weekly conference call with the entire staff. It allowed me to see the meeting agenda and anything that was on the presenter’s screen, which was very helpful. At that time, though, there was no ability to webcam with the other participants so it was a phone call with a static screen to look at. It was better than just a phone call, but not ideal.
Participating in a long telephone call with multiple participants is tricky. First of all, if there are segments of the call that are not relevant to you, and it’s hard to maintain focus with just a voice in your ear. When you are involved in the conversation, it’s sometimes difficult to know when to speak up, whether or not you’re interrupting (and when is that okay and not rude) and how to make yourself heard without stepping on someone else’s time. Like I said, it’s tricky.
Now with the same program, GoToMeeting (and many others), you have the ability to not only hear, but see, every participant. It makes a huge difference, particularly in a long meeting with multiple contributors. It allows you to see body language, facial expression and attitude. It enhances the ability to gauge the interest level and commitment of the person speaking. It can still be difficult to know how to make yourself heard without interrupting, but so much better than a phone meeting. After more than 15 years of working remotely, I welcome the ability to turn on the webcam and view others in the meeting.
I hear of people hesitant or even resistant to video. I would strongly encourage such people to try it until you get used to it. It becomes more comfortable and the benefits outweigh the concerns. I can’t believe anyone with the ability and opportunity to use videoconferencing or similar technology would opt not to use it.