The effect of globalization and digitization is that our work is more complex and global. The speed of change is faster than ever. To stay ahead of competition, companies must communicate and collaborate more effectively, efficiently and inclusively across the globe. That is why Global Business Academy has created 8 competencies to increase global team performance. Vital, now that we continue to work remotely and team members are thousands of miles and cultures apart. The third competency we discuss in this series is: Effective Communication.
Go left, left again and walk for 10 minutes
Anyone who has ever asked for directions in Asia knows that after half an hour’s walk that temple is still not in sight. In fact, you should not have gone left and continue for 30 minutes, but right, left, 100 meters straight ahead, through a maze of streets and then walk for another hour. After following incorrect directions a few times, you quickly learn that you have to ask at least 4 times. If there is a common denominator, then you are literally on the right track.
Saying no is rude
Saying no is rude in many countries, you don’t say that. That is already the first barrier in communication with more outspoken cultures. I lived in Hong Kong for 12 years and am fairly used to indirect communication. Two years ago I was in Hong Kong and had lunch with my former colleague. She was recently married and excitedly invited me for dinner that night, to meet her new husband. After I said “yes”, she told me that she usually visits her mother on Mondays. An alarm bell went off in my head, but she was the one who suggested dinner. So what to do? Since I wasn’t planning anything for that evening anyway, I didn’t double check. I did not want to embarrass her and loose face. I gave it a 70/30. 70% that it did not happen, 30% that it did. Of course the dinner never took place. This is exactly what happens in collaborations.
Develop an antenna
Strong communication within the team is essential. To get there, there are a number of competencies you need: how to get people to share their opinion, how to get feedback, how to deal with problems et cetera. Essential in all is the ability to pick up signals that things are not quite right, just like the Monday visits to her mother was a signal. When cultures are quite direct, their antenna is not well developed to pick up indirect communication. When teamwork goes smoothly, it doesn’t seem like you need those skills. But the crux is when you embark on difficulties. Countless times I hear my clients complain that they only know about the problems at the end, not as and when they happen. Fortunately, that antenna is fairly easy to develop. It can save you a lot of time, money and frustration to get ahead of them.
It doesn’t mean they don’t like you
For more indirect communicators, it’s important to realise that direct communication is not meant personally. When people say ‘no’, it doesn’t mean they don’t like you. When they are direct, it doesn’t mean they are offensive to you. It’s just how they are, they communicate like this with everyone. If you find them very direct, it’s highly likely that they find you highly indirect and may not pick up the messages you are trying to convey.
We are half of the cultural difference
Every single person on this planet finds him or herself normal. That makes others abnormal. In a global world, it is important to realize that we are all half of the cultural difference. I often hear people say ‘we are head office’ or ‘we are the client’ followed by ‘and they just have to adapt’. But just like you can’t become Japanese, French or Brazilian, even if you lived there half a lifetime, global employees can’t 100% adapt to the head office culture.
Expectations and assumptions
When you find some aspects difficult when you work with certain cultures, it’s highly likely they struggle with you as well. Not only may there be mutual challenges, your expectations are largely determined by your own culture. We make assumptions and expectations based on our own values and ways of work. If you value transparency and the other person is not transparent, you will be quick to judge. As soon as you start judging, you stop asking questions and communication stops. That’s why self-reflection is such an important part – and my favorite part – of our program. Only when we start to see ourselves from the perspective of the other, we start to look at the same situation differently. It strengthens the power of inclusion and the benefits it brings to your business.