Most professionals in global organizations would have experienced awkward moments in conference calls, especially at times when team members from different countries do not understand each other well. The lack of understanding may not be just because of accent and intonation but deep-rooted cultural influences.
At a pre-conference workshop for early bird registrants, Ms. Deena Levine, principal, Deena Levine & Associates, brought out some of these undercurrents in conversations that can derail communications and upset relationships. She used role play to drive home the importance of understanding cultural influences in communication for better results at work.
Cultural prejudices arise because people expect others to behave like them and any social behavior that is unfamiliar is considered unacceptable. In the role play act, Ms. Levine created a scenario where a global bank with its headquarters in Germany, IT project lead in New York, and the technical team in India had a rather disastrous conference call. In the call, the German wanted a clear answer from the team in India on their deliverables; the American praised her team for their work but seemed unaware of the ground realities the project team in India was facing; and the Indian team appeared unprepared for the call and vacillated on the deadline commitment between “we’ll try” and “we’ve problems…it seems difficult.”
“There seems to be misalignment between what the different teams are saying. I’d like the workshop participants to say what went wrong in the call. What skills will you give the team members for more effective communication?” asked Ms. Levine.
In the next 20 minutes, participants formed teams to brainstorm on what the bank’s team lacked and recommend skills to improve their communication levels. Some of the problem areas the participants identified were: insincere praise and small talk by the project lead from New York didn’t help break ice like she had hoped for; the insistence on deadline commitment by the German made him seem inflexible and unconcerned about the team’s problems; and parallel talking by the Indian team showed their unpreparedness and the lack of a clear answer made them seem low on commitment.
“People in high-context countries like India and low-context countries like Germany communicate differently. Germans prefer unambiguous responses like ‘yes’ and ‘no’. They tend to take the ‘I’ll try’ by an Indian as lack of commitment. They often miss the implicit in ‘I’ll try’, which is ‘I don’t want to offend you by saying no…I’ll try my best but the outcome is not in my hands’. Organizations that expose their teams to these cultural dimensions can expect better communication skills in their employees,” she summarized.
Ms. Levine also addressed project managers on the second day on “Global Cross-Cultural Communication: Insight, Challenges & Good Practices.”
A team may have individuals with high intelligence quotient (IQ) and relevant knowledge but these attributes are not sufficient to create high productivity. The emotional quotient (EQ) is equally important to convert IQ into productivity.
Mr. Maaney Paul, motivational speaker, used anecdotes from his life to illustrate the need to develop EQ as a success factor at work. He drew insights from real-life situations and peppered his talk with some humor and wit during an hour and a half pre-conference session for early bird delegates.
“To begin with, we must understand ourselves and know our own strengths and weaknesses. We must know what can move our energy levels, or the factors that can increase our productivity and efficiency. It’s like in a marriage…I know my wife but don’t understand her. That doesn’t help,” he said, to an audience roaring in laughter. Incidentally, the marriage jokes drew the loudest applauses throughout the talk.
Some of the key attributes that help in taking a project manager’s efficiency up are adopting the right attitude, appreciating cultural differences in teams, and love for what one does. “I believe in the ‘law of least effort’. When we do something because we enjoy doing it, we get good results; whereas when we do the same thing because we need to do it, the results may be disappointing. Do what you have to do with your heart and see the outcome,” said Mr. Paul.