Understanding our people
Sep 4, 2018
Last weekend we had our senior management meeting for the third quarter. As we expand fast within our different countries and within our different business units it is very important to meet up on a regular basis to make sure we are all pushing in the same direction, and that we set shared goals for the next coming months and years. This time we met in the historic city of Ayuthaya. It was very special as we got to learn more about Thailand's history and also participate in some of the traditional Buddhist ceremonies together with our Thai management.
For this meeting we had also invited the motivational coach Sinto LLobera, who is a training and coaching expert with years of experience. In his sessions he focused on how to be a leader, how to communicate across different cultures and also how to manage our time efficiently.
Having a Group with over 50 nationalities, of which 8 of them are represented in the senior management, there are a lot of cross-cultural communication. Sinto explained to us that people communicate across a wide spectrum according to many different sets of habits. The first barometer was concerning the context of how we speak. Nationalities like Thai and Indian have high context and they use many words to explain their points, which often comes across as more sophisticated and considerate. American nationalities and also Dutch to some extent are very direct and use low context. It often less confusion when communicating in low context, but high context nationalities might find it hard to find the point as they are trying to read "between the lines" and it might be considered too direct.
Similar barometers are used for the way people communicate criticism. Most Asian countries avoid confrontations and direct criticism, and when giving criticism it has to be done in private. "Loosing face" is a critical part of understanding their culture and approach to issues. Dutch nationalities are very confrontational and direct, but it is meant positive. They see it as helping the other person when giving them direct feedback as it is then easy for the person to adjust. British often give three positive comments to a person followed by a "but" where the true feedback is given.
We had many interesting conversations following the insight from Sinto. Going through some of our communication it was very clear that how we communicate and how we read such communication is very much effected by our background, although there of course are personal differences within each nationality. We agreed as a team after input from Sinto that the best way to have efficient communication is to agree to do everything in low context to avoid confusion. When these things are agreed up front it is much easier to not get offended or to get confused if you are from a different context-level background.