I’m here today in Berlin so I guess it’s appropriate that our theme today is cross-cultural communication, how people from different kinds of cultures can get along better.
You know, some cultures are more direct and upfront. People just say what they want to say. And other cultures don’t say no, they don’t say yes, they’re more indirect. That’s two of the differences.
First, our principle is to talk about when you’re dealing with people from a different culture to have a few questions that you hold inside yourself to ask about the other culture, and one is are they more direct or indirect? Do they like to have lots of options and choices and possibilities or do they have a preference at least in negotiations or in the context that you deal with them? If they have a preference for following a step-by-step procedure and they want to do things the right way and they’re kind of linear in their thinking.
You see, the idea is if you want to have good communication with someone, you need to meet them where they are and not demand that they come and meet you at your own bus stop. So the idea is if you have a few questions about how you can understand how people do things, that will help you find their bus stop.
For example, if you find yourself in a culture where people are really direct, they tell you what they like, they tell you what they dislike, they seem to have a commanding tone, that means that you need to understand that and respect that. It means that you can say yes or no very directly in return. They probably want you to be just as proactive as they are and talk about getting things done and moving forward with things. They don’t want to hear about “Let me take a while and think about it,” more reactive and pensive ways abeam. They want you to respond in that kind of way. And chances are they have a short timeframe. They want to hear things and get things back from you now. They don’t want to wait until later.
Now, if you’re dealing with a culture on the other hand where people tend to be more reactive and they wait for things to be the right moment and they want to think things through, that’s also important for you to go to that bus stop and offer them time to think things through and give them a reason why they might want to think that now might be the right time. As opposed to do it now, let’s consider why now is the right time. It’s just that softness in language.
Another cultural difference of course is whether or not a person or a culture prefers having lots of possibilities and choices and options or whether or not they want to know how to do things. Now, you can tell which one of these is going on in a conversation. If a person says to you, “Well, what else can we do about this?” or “What are the alternatives?” you know that they’re driven from alternatives and options and possibilities and you need to talk about what else and what are the options. If a person says to you, “Well, how can we make this happen and what process do we need to follow, and what’s the first step?” you know they come from a more procedural background or at least that individual is more procedural, and then you need to talk about the first step, the second step, third step, fourth step.
If you’re in a culture that hasn’t changed for a very long time, they want to know how things are the same, and if you come across as showing how things are different, then that may not be the most appropriate thing. Respect people’s needs for continuity and talk about how you can maintain good things as well as improve them because that’s respecting the sameness. And if they want to do see you again, chances are there will be a ritual that they want to follow that was the same as last. So pay attention to those rituals, et cetera.
And now, here’s the last tip. When in doubt, listen. And secondly — that wasn’t the last tip then. I guess there’s always another one — use internal influencing language. What I mean by that is language that enables people to go inside and decide for themselves. We call those people who want to decide for themselves internal. So my suggestion would be to use what I call the language of suggestion. Offer things for people to consider and then listen to their response. Do they jump right in or want to do it right now, which means they’re really proactive and direct? Or do they want to think about things and let it mull over? So when you use a suggestion and invite people to decide, you can tell all of those different patterns.
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I’m sure there’s more that could be added. Please let me know your thoughts.