There is about a 100 percent possibility that in the course of your day you will be communicating with someone from a different country who has had a different cultural upbringing and who speaks a different first language than you do. As one of my coaching clients explained, “I was with team members on a call today in which one person was in California and one was in Nepal, and I was in Washington, D.C. I’ve worked with these people for three years, and I’ve never met them.” There are as many ways to behave toward and with people as there are countries on the earth. And even within each country, there are regional variations of the larger culture. You cannot cover every single base, but you can have an approach that works with every single constituent:Accept differences.Be respectful and extra polite in words and tone.Use an appropriate level of formal title: Dr., Professor, Mr.,Mrs., Ms., Madame, Mssr., and so on.Use lots of “pleases” and “thank-yous.”Don’t be loud and pushy.Minimize being overly direct and abrupt.Use straightforward terminology, not big words.Slow down; speak up.
That same coaching client said, “My secret to success is to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ in the other person’s language. Even if my pronunciation is clumsy, people appreciate the effort.”
Don’t be quick, fast, or in a hurry (all the time). Be unhurried (within reason, of course). Be markedly unrushed. Slow down when you talk, walk, respond, ask a question, enter a room, shake hands, and leave a room. Be confident enough to take time. Move only when necessary. If you slow down, you’ll go a lot faster. The more time you give yourself, the more status people will give you. Quick, jerky motions make you look nervous. Plus, when you talk and move fast, it’s hard for people to absorb what you’re saying. Pause as if you mean it. Don’t let other people take you out of your calm. Talk at a slowed-down pace, but think fast. Be quiet so you can see and hear more. One of my coaching clients told me, “Our CEO has a distinct sense of self-containment. He’s never in a hurry, but he’s still a beat faster than most people.” Your composure will be contagious. People will ask you fewer questions and challenge or attack you less when you’re calm and slowed down.
We all think we’re different, but there are more similarities than differences between us. What is most universal is most personal. Most people:Feel not fully understoodAre the center of their own universeWant to see what they own go up in value all of the timeWant to be appreciated, feel powerful, and appear clever or smartWant to be happyWant to make their children laughHave a dark side, a part of them the world doesn’t see
In a time of trouble, most people will assess their own exposure first, then gradually assess the implications for their friends, their town, the social fabric, and their country. We are more similar than dissimilar; understanding that helps you relate and get along with diverse demographics in your workplace.
You can be anything and do anything with enough preparation and work. To be effective in what message you want to get across to others, you must prepare. If you painstakingly prepare more than most people bother to, it will measurably improve your chances of affecting people the way you want. Some CEOs tell me that for every hour they expect to be in front of someone, they give themselves two to three hours of preparation. (The rule of thumb of courtiers in Buckingham Palace is that “a one-minute visit with the queen requires three hours of planning.") Preparation increases confidence and optimism, and makes you more interesting to whomever you are speaking with. People respond well to someone who is sure of what he or she wants and goes for it. Before you communicate, ask yourself, “What do I want to accomplish in this exchange? What are the reasons to do this—both implicit and explicit? Why should she give a darn? What is the likely outcome of this exchange?” And then, after it’s done ask, “Did I accomplish what I set out to?”
Today’s workforce is made up of mixed generations from boomers to millenials and from a multitude of demographics. Despite the differences we are more similar than dissimilar. I’m an avid cook, and was wondering about a new use of a package of wonton wrappers that I had left over after making dim sum. In a Saturday morning of research I found recipes to use the same “Chinese” wrapper to make maultaschensuppe (a German dumpling), Russian Ramen, Tibetan Momos, Georgian Khinkali, Jewish Kreplach, Sichuan Chili wontons, Pierogi, Ukranian Manti, Slovenian dumplings, Italian Tortellini, and Montreal Peanut Butter Dumplings. Each recipe had the same “outside” but the insides changed a little with geography, history, culture, tastes, available items, etc. All recipes achieved the same goal of satisfying taste and providing nourishment: the same outside wrapper but different inside the wrapper techniques and ingredients. There is an analogy to today’s work force. We are humans who are made up of differences on the inside, but with the same outside goal of the pursuit of happiness – whether with food or a career.
But issues related to job satisfaction are at least as crucial as financial incentives. “You rehire your employees every single day,” says Gloree Parker-Roden, senior vice president of Enterprise Services at Pearson Technology Centre. “We had no problem with retention until a time period where we went into a maintenance program without a major initiative going. Things felt slow to people. We found that the same people who complained about long hours and overwork really didn’t want to underwork either.” In other words, high retention of valuable employees requires keeping them challenged and interested as well as rewarding them financially.
In a research project, Watson Wyatt Worldwide found that the number-one driver of employee commitment is trust in senior management. If a manager fails to provide the necessary leadership, then people leave. Gloree Parker-Roden speaks for many when she says, “The important thing to me is being able to work with managers I respect and trust. If that was broken, then I would go.”The Watson Wyatt survey identified other factors that caused people to leave an employer. Here they are, starting with the most commonly cited:Higher salaries offered by other organizationsDissatisfaction with potential career growFeeling unappreciatedRising acceptability of job-hoppingDifficulty balancing work/life issuesBurnoutBenefits offered by other organizationsPerceived lack of job securityConflicts with supervisor or co-workersViability of the organizationConflicts with the organization’s mission or values
Salary is clearly an important factor, but it’s far from the only one. Any manager who has a high turnover rate shouldn’t blamed the company pay scale alone; instead, the manager should examine his or her own practices in the work environment.
In my executive coaching of 30+ years I’ve worked with over a thousand chief executives from eighteen different countries and in every industry. Once a week someone asks my take on the secret to success in business. I can answer with four points: 1. Smile 2. Ask questions 3. Make decisions 4. Take blame Smile because you have to look and act confident. An open expression engaging your eyes and your attitude work universally. Lips turned upward make you look awake, alive, and approachable. Ask questions because everyone dislikes a know-it-all and know one does know it all. You empower people when you ask their opinion, experience, advice, etc. and when you empower them they respect and trust you. Make decisions before someone makes them for you, because they will. And they likely won’t be the decisions you want. It takes courage to put a stake in the ground and decide but again, someone’s going to do it and it might as well be you. Take blame early and often when things don’t go well. Do not have a whiff of blaming others even when it was their fault. Find out why they failed and help where you can so it doesn’t happen again. But if you blame them for mistakes you’ll never get their trust or respect. Successful people take the responsibility to look confident and comfortable so as to make others feel that way around them. Then they ask questions to fill in what they don’t know or confirm what they do so as to make better decisions, sooner. And when things go wrong they take responsibility; when things go well they always give credit to others.