Congratulations! Your company has entered the global marketplace. Now you must teach your staff how to communicate with one another and with clients. The need to communicate effectively across cultures in a global marketplace has never been more important, yet companies that hope to capture international business often overlook the basics, examining individual style differences.
While strategies may vary by industry, the basic foundation is teaching managers and employees at all levels to understand, appreciate and manage the impact of behavior styles in the communication process. The basic objective is to help staff members increase productivity and forge stronger cultural appreciation of one another. Many people blame communication challenges on cultural differences and language barriers, but the bottleneck often is individual style differences. People have quite different cultures and opinions, and ignoring individual style differences can foil a company’s bid for global success.
Levels of Engagement
Companies need to help employees understand the levels of engagement. There are three levels. Pick up any book on business etiquette, and you’ll learn about level one—the general rules of appropriate relationship and communication skills. These rules apply to everyone and include simple things like common courtesy, being on time for appointments and following up on customers’ requests. In addition, the customs of a particular culture need to be taken into consideration. If you have business cards printed in English on one side and in Spanish on the other, when in Spain you should present your card with the Spanish side facing the recipient. Unfamiliarity with cultural communication differences can lead to misinterpretation, misunderstanding and even unintentional insult.
At level two, more discrete rules apply, specifically regional differentiations. What worked in the past might not work everywhere. For example, when doing business in Australia, there are regional differentiations between acceptable business interactions in Sydney as compared to Melbourne. Likewise, there are differences between Shanghai and Hong Kong.
People often are conscious of level one and are somewhat familiar with level two, but rarely consider level three. At level three, each person has an individual rule of personal engagement. These are the unwritten rules that differ when dealing with each individual decision-maker. This is where understanding that individual’s style can help you figure out what others want and need, and then you can give it to them. Organizations must recognize that there are three levels of engagement, then focus on helping staff to internalize levels two and three in day-to-day interactions. You need to get to level three to really make it work.
Building an understanding for others’ communication and style requires self-assessment. Each person should determine to what degree he or she utilizes each behavior style in a given situation. Amazingly, many companies discover that the diversity of style within the group—even groups with participants from around the globe—is about the same as if all participants in a room were from the same city.
Learning to Appreciate Others
There is nothing magical about cluing into a person’s style. It is a skill that requires you to step back from yourself and take the time to understand the other person. For example, within a particular company, senior management team members can have a wide array of individual styles. With regard to completing reports, one team leader may require pages of details, and the other leader wants only bullet points of information. Here, nationality or cultures are irrelevant.
Employees need to learn how to better understand one another and how a particular client will also have a unique style. A successful work team capitalizes on the appreciation of diversity. Diversity does not mean we have to like everything and everybody. It means that we need to respect and appreciate those things that make people unique.
In our work with international companies, we too often paint other cultures with a broad brush and fall into a trap of stereotyping instead of drilling down into individual styles. Many countries in the world, based on world events, group all Americans as “fill in the blank.” Americans are often offended by that, though they likewise tend to paint other cultures with broad brushes, rather than taking into consideration the regional and individual differences.
Translating Behavior Style Awareness Into Action
Arguably, building awareness about the three levels of engagement can only translate into sound business strategy once placed into action. Encourage employees to write a strategy on how to deal with a client that is currently a problem. Identify specific engagement techniques, and then have each person create a tangible process to follow. A company can stress globality and solving client problems as a vision, but a successful businessperson knows that when the primary decision-maker is not satisfied, the relationship won’t move forward, nor will the service or product sell.
John W. “Buddy” Hobart is president and founder of Solutions 21, an organization and skill development firm that provides clients with multifaceted expertise to deliver realistic solutions in the areas of people, process, strategy and business development. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.