Tag: Communication

How to Reduce Cross-Cultural Disconnects

Three ways to help leaders & teams navigate cross cultural disconnects to manage challenges & appreciate the benefits of today’s diverse workplace.

Culture is a big, hairy topic. Even more challenging is that we each belong to more than one culture. There’s country culture, corporate culture, family culture, and beyond. We’re each a unique cultural mishmash of all of these. So, how can we prepare ourselves and our teams to manage challenges and appreciate the benefits of our diverse cultural backgrounds?

Here are three simple ways (that often feel very complex) to help us navigate cultural dynamics:

  • Educate ourselves on cross-culture fundamentals.
  • Recognize different communication styles.
  • Prepare to expect and explore differences.

Educate Ourselves on Cross-Culture Fundamentals

Before we dive in, let’s acknowledge the obvious. There is no way to fully dissect all the complexities of cross-cultural interactions. It would be overwhelming, not to mention impossible. So, what can we do, and where do we begin?

A great place to start is The Culture Map: Decoding How People Think, Lead, and Get Things Done Across Cultures,” by Erin Meyer. Meyer looks at eight facets of culture and how they may relate across countries: Communicating, Evaluating, Persuading, Leading, Deciding, Trusting, Disagreeing, and Scheduling. These cultural factors offer a compass to navigate familiar complexities. When we explore and apply these insights, we begin to understand our similarities and differences more clearly.

Personally, I’ve found these insights extremely helpful, not just in my work but at home. My husband (French) and I (American) navigate our own cross-cultural microcosm of connects and disconnects. These range from funny to pull-your-hair-out frustrating. We usually reach a détente through active listening and patience. Also, a nice bottle of wine never hurts.

Recognize Different Communication Styles

Communication ranges from what Meyer describes as high-context (implicit) to low-context (explicit). High-context communication is more frequent in cultures with long, rich histories, which create context for a shared understanding of nuanced communication. Meyer uses Japan as an example of a country with high-context communication. Alternatively, the US is a relatively new country that has been populated by global immigrants from different cultures who speak different languages. As a result, communication in the US tends to be more direct to help assure clarity without depending on shared backgrounds, culture, or language. Of course, we still experience disconnects and misunderstandings even within cultures. Looking at possible roots of these challenges benefits us no matter what cultural factors may be at play.   

Prepare to Expect and Explore Differences

Team members from different cultures may hold different assumptions about how to communicate. Each of us may enter a conversation with the best intentions, but it can easily be derailed because of disconnects in implicit assumptions. We walk away feeling confused, frustrated, and sometimes even offended.  When we explore and understand these differences, we can consciously work to bridge gaps to improve communication and achieve better collaboration.

Engage the Human Fundamentals

Culture influences how we communicate with others around the world and even in our own communities. Navigating cross-cultural differences can be challenging, but it can also offer great benefits. We each bring different experiences and perspectives to help us tackle challenges and achieve success. Beyond culture, we share a lot of human factors, including our desire to build trust, feel respected, and be understood.  In the end, we’re more alike than we are different, and our common ground is a great place to start building bridges.

Owning Your Executive Presence

Executive presence is crucial to effective leadership. Aspiring leaders may reject developing executive presence if they view it as inauthentic or an attempt to become someone they’re not. This perspective could not be farther from the truth. Executive presence is the observable result of stepping into our strengths, owning our depth of experience, and valuing what we bring to leadership to instill trust and confidence in the people around us. 

How Do We Develop Executive Presence?

We develop and hone our executive presence by focusing on the fundamentals. Let’s break it down into three key components:

  • Mindset
  • Communicating Competence
  • Engagement with Others

Mindset

Mindset is how we think about ourselves, the world around us, and interactions between the two: Do we see ourselves as a leader? Do we believe we bring value to our role? Do we secretly believe we’re “faking it,” and fear others will discover we have no idea what we’re doing?  Mindset impacts our confidence, and our level of confidence impacts our executive presence.

Confidence is something we can develop. It comes through successes and failures when we learn from those experiences: “Wow, I did a great job, and here’s what contributed to that success…” or “Huh! That failure didn’t kill me…I wonder what else won’t kill me?” Confidence is built through engaging in the world and running toward something we want, rather than running away from what scares us (unless what scares you is a charging alligator. Then run, run like the wind!).  When we seek the intersection of experiences that both excite and scare us, that is where growth happens, and through that growth we build confidence.

Communicating Competence

Competence is also critical to executive presence and to our overall leadership. Even with a powerful mindset, we will not have an executive presence if people do not have confidence in our skills and abilities. However, it’s not just about having competence, but how we communicate that competence. Regardless of our personal style, there are deeper fundamentals we can leverage to communicate competence, both explicitly and implicitly.

Explicitly, we communicate competence through the ideas we bring to the table, how we respond to questions, and how we engage in discussions about the business, industry, etc. Implicitly, we communicate competence through our behavior and delivery. Physically, people who are calm and grounded appear more competent. They have a clear, concise message and tailor that message to their audience. Leaders with a strong executive presence do not appear easily flustered or overwhelmed. This is not to say they don’t sometimes feel those things, but there is a difference between our internal experience and our outward behavior. It’s the metaphor of a duck gliding serenely across the water while paddling like mad beneath the surface. This does not mean we should take an artificial “Fake it ‘til you make it” approach. Instead, author Timothy R. Clark encourages a more authentic, “Behave until you believe.” ( “The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety: Defining the Path to Inclusion and Innovation,” by Timothy R. Clark.)   When we breathe, slow down, and calm our mind, we help our inside experience begin to align with our outward behavior, and this allows us to improve how we communicate leadership. 

Engagement with Others

Executive presence is not a one-way communication. We also communicate competence and confidence by how we listen to people, ask good questions, and seek to understand the knowledge and perspectives of others. Executive presence does not mean we always need to have the right answer, be the smartest person in the room, or make all the decisions. Leadership is a team sport, a synergy between a leader who serves their people, and the people guided by that leader. Without synergy, leadership does not exist. An adage, often attributed to John C. Maxwell, says “If you think you’re a leader and you turn around and no one else is following you, then you’re simply out for a walk.” 

A Powerful Combination

Our executive presence is a combination of many factors, including internal mindset, communication of competence, and how we engage others. All these factors merge to create an executive presence that is unique to each of us. The most effective executive presence is not only achieved through our individual actions, but through the powerful interaction between us and the people around us. Our executive presence inspires others to have confidence in us as a leader, and that together we will achieve our goals.