Author: Edward Maggard
We live in a time of global connection. We are connected to one another through a global economy and the relative ease of travel that is allowed us to know one another in ways that previously were quite difficult. In addition, the Internet has made possible a nearly instantaneous connection with people who have vastly different histories and cultural norms that both puzzle and fascinate us.
This connection also presents challenges. It seems as though we, as fellow humans, should be able to relate to one another with ease, but at times we are confused by these differences.
As leaders, we desire to cross cultural boundaries for the purposes of business, education, and caring for those less fortunate than ourselves. Naturally, many of us are trying to figure out just how to communicate with people who don’t have the same orientation as we do. This communication takes on many varied forms.
In order to lead well, we know that building trust is key. Some of us, for example, are very direct in our communication. We say what we mean and mean what we say. Others of us are much less direct and speak in more nuanced terms. Erin Meyer, in her book The Culture Map, describes this phenomenon as low context versus high context communication. A good general rule for communication across cultures is to lean toward more specific direct language, while being sensitive to those who operate naturally in a high context style. Those individuals may be put off by directness in speech and therefore it is wise to say things like, “if you’ll allow me to be direct I will try my best not to offend”, and “ please tell me if my language seems too bold or harsh as that is not my intention.“
Another difference that Meyers points out is how important personal relationship is to what is, at its core, a business arrangement. It's necessary in some contexts, and advantageous to all, to communicate a level of interest in the families, challenges, and hopes of our counterparts. If we desire to help others grow and prosper, as is the goal of all leadership, taking time to listen well and communicate clearly and with cultural sensitivity is an imperative.
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