There are many challenges that come with working across cultural lines. You may be worried about what you’re saying is getting “lost in translation.” You may also be concerned over inadvertently stumbling over social etiquette, of saying or doing something that’s perfectly normal in your culture but may be frowned upon elsewhere.
But let me tell you the biggest problem that I see with leaders working across cultural lines: They talk too much. They’re eager to get their point across, to make it clear that they have done their homework—so eager that they effectively shut out their international collaborators.
Erin Meyer, writing for Fast Company, has a fascinating theory as to why this is such a common occurrence among American business leaders working with international peers. The reason, she says, “is the U.S. school system, among the only ones in the world where students are graded largely on how much they speak up and contribute, even if what they say isn’t particularly insightful. Compare that to China, where students learn in school only to speak if they’ve carefully prepared their contribution.”
How to Keep from Talking Too Much
Meyer goes on to offer some tips for overcoming this problem, and for truly being a good collaborator with international peers. It all boils down to graciously and effectively moderating the conversation, ensuring everyone has their chance to speak.
I think these are good and useful tips, and you may even find them helpful in meetings with your own team at your home office.
- Provide people with a list of questions/points to consider in advance of your meeting. Understand that in many cultures, people are trained not to speak until they’ve formulated a thoughtful response. As such, getting your collaborators to weigh in may require you to give them a heads up about some of the topics and questions you’d like to address.
- Once you’ve given everyone the chance to prepare, call on them frequently. Rather than letting one person monopolize the discussion, pass the microphone to others in the meeting. Meyer recommends saying something like this: “Thanks for those great comments you made earlier, Joe. Now I’d love to hear from some of you who haven’t had a chance yet. Taka, we haven’t heard from you yet this morning. Your thoughts on this topic?”
- Be mindful of body language. Your colleagues from other countries may not raise their hand to indicate they want to speak, but you may see some subtler cues in their body language—like if they turn to look at the moderator. Be vigilant about such things, and make sure you yield the floor to those who look like they are ready to speak.
Give everyone in your meeting time to shine. Use these suggestions to make sure the meeting is a true gathering among peers.
Dr. Rick Goodman CSP is a thought leader in the world of leadership and one of the most sought after conference keynote speakers on leadership, engagement, and business growth in the United States and internationally.
He is the author of the books Living A Championship Life “A Game Plan for Success” and My Team Sucked “10 Rules That Turned Them Into Rock Stars.” He is also the co-author of the book Jamie’s Journey: Travels with My Dad, written with his sixteen-year-old daughter Jamie.
Dr. Rick is famous for helping organizations, corporations, and individuals with systems, strategies, and solutions that encourage engagement, resulting in increased profits and productivity without having the challenges of micromanaging the process. Some of Dr. Rick’s clients include Heineken, AT&T, Boeing, Cavium Networks, IBM, Hewlett Packard, and Franklin Templeton Investments.
You can contact Dr. Rick at www.rickgoodman.com or call 888-267-6098.