During and after administering our courses on the topic of presence, I’m often asked: “How does the concept of presence apply in different cultures? Your approach is very North American/Northern European—does this work in other cultures? Don’t different cultures have different ways of communicating?”
These are great questions, and they shine a spotlight on a critical consideration for any global activity: cross-cultural relevance. So, let’s see how we can answer them.
First and foremost, each person’s presence is unique. They can certainly enhance and develop their presence. However, they need to do so within a range that is still authentic to each individual. If it’s not authentic, it doesn’t feel real to other people. And that´s not good for building relationships or developing trust in the workplace.
When working across cultural divides, true authenticity begins with not over-emulating the culture of other people. You want your employees to respect the cultures of colleagues across the globe, and be curious about them. But it’s also critical for each employee to be true to who they are.
So, how can you coach your team to tweak their presence to ensure success in making a connection across cultural divides? Here are some guidelines:
Being present is a universal courtesy that transcends culture, language, and whether communicating in-person or virtually. Key points to consider:
- Some cultures expect a higher degree of presence than many of us are used to, especially in those cultures where personal relationships and trust precede business relationships. This can often be at odds with a goal-oriented, get-it-done approach.
- Be respectful of each other’s time and commitment to meetings and encourage them to avoid multi-tasking.
- Be present not only to the verbal and non-verbal messages directed at them but also to the communication between the other participants.
- Adjust to the expectations of other cultures around personal space, touching, greetings and other anomalies.
Reaching out speaks to a genuine desire to connect with the other person. Key points to consider:
- At the beginning of a conversation or meeting, create check-ins to connect and find common ground - the foundation for any relationship.
- Continue to check-in frequently during the conversation to confirm understanding and uncover agreement or disagreement.
- Demonstrate empathy when planning calls and be thoughtful about local holidays, time zones and who is being inconvenienced in trying to accommodate everyone. Acknowledge this inconvenience early in calls.
Being expressive is a quality that covers not only what we say, but how we say it (vocally, facially, physically, and emotionally). Key points to consider:
- Coach employees to be thoughtful about the pace of their speech. Non-native speakers will have trouble understanding a faster pace. Even accents can cause trouble.
- When others listen in a second language, they often rely on facial expressions and body language to help them understand what is being said. If they can’t do this, your employees have to be doubly clear with their voice and words.
- If employees are speaking a second language, be aware of their expressiveness and additional “ums” and “ahs.” To overcome feelings of self-consciousness, people often speed up and rush through without pausing. They end up being less emotive and expressive while they concentrate on getting the words right.
- Be careful in the teams’ use of metaphors, anecdotes, and other references so that they are culturally appropriate and make sense to other cultures.
- Add visuals or text. People communicating in a second language often understand more when reading than when listening.
Self-knowing is being aware your values, strengths, and limitations, especially when it comes to what you know about the other culture. Key points to consider:
- Don’t be ashamed to admit what you don’t know. Own it with grace and humility and teach others what you learn so it can be adopted company-wide.
- Be aware of biases to other cultures – you will be amazed how others pick up on our real thoughts and feelings through the tiniest of signals.
- Be aware of what works for you and what works against you in bridging cultural divides. Play to your strengths and be prepared to adjust where necessary.
At the end of the day, we need no language to be able to laugh together, and much of what “divides” us is really our own biases and lack of curiosity about differences. And as the author Ciore Taylor said, “Differences simply act as a yarn of curiosity, unraveling until we get to the other side.”
Want to learn more? Join me and Kate Nugent at ATD 2017 Conference & Exposition for the session: Uniting Global Teams: Communicating Virtually for Impact, Inclusion, and Engagement.