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Tag Archives: miscommunication

Business global communication and the importance of “small talk”

tinav_01My professional colleague, friend and global communication expert, Tina Varughese last gave us a guest post earlier this summer offering cross-cultural communication tips for women.  So I’m thrilled that I persuaded her to make a repeat appearance on the blog today.  In her post below, Tina explores the value of “small talk” and its importance in the world of business global communication.

P.S. I am also very excited to tell you that I will be sharing the platform with Tina (and two other eloquent thought-leaders) at the Customer Service Leadership Summit next month on November 15.  I’ll give you more information about the Summit at the end of this post, but first, here is Tina’s contribution.

How important is “small talk” in business global communication?

According to Andy Molinsky, author of Global Dexterity: How to Adapt Your Behavior Across Cultures without Losing Yourself in the Process, effectiveness can be limited if global dexterity is not adopted.  Yet, global dexterity can be a challenging skill to acquire – and can take some time and flexibility.  Engaging in ‘small talk’ can feel inauthentic if it’s not part of your cultural norm. Managers can feel frustrated and angry when needing to conform to cultural norms that conflict with their own cultural beliefs and values.

Even when interviewing for a new position, the human resources advisor will often ask if you found the building without issue. He may even talk a little about the crazy snowfall we had yesterday – or even the Calgary Flames’ loss. This part of the ‘interview’ will last about sixty seconds … or even more … depending on how necessary it is. Small talk is, essentially, benign conversation that puts both parties at ease and is essential to Canadian business and global communication. Does ‘small talk’ differ around the world? Absolutely! How important is it? Depending on where you are, it can make or break global business negotiations, assist in creating long-lasting relationships, or potentially contribute to losing millions in revenue. Continue reading

Be thoughtful about how you’re communicating information to your team

Most leaders I know are deliberate and thoughtful about ensuring that their employees feel like they are treated equivalently (after all, wanting to be treated fairly is a primal instinct).  But there is one circumstance in which this good intention often goes amiss.  I’m talking communicating information to the team.  I’ll start by saying that this communication failure is usually never intentional.

Business people talking togetherThere are some employees with whom you have more vocal or friendly relationships.  I’m talking about the team members who pop in to your office to chat about their weekends, or those ask you about your kids at the coffee machine.  And because you’re having more frequent conversations with these staff, you tend to talk about stuff.  And some of this “stuff” has to do with new workplace initiatives, or recent discussions at the senior management table, or process changes being considered.  Not surprisingly, these employees repeat this “stuff” to their co-workers, and suddenly, without you even realizing it, the rest of your team thinks you’re playing favourites when it comes to communicating information that’s important.  Definitely not what you’d intended, or likely even thought about!  But it’s something you need to be aware of. Continue reading

Another outcome of “big is better” that can cause cross-cultural differences

Earlier this week I blogged about the “big is better” mindset that tends to pervade businesses in the United States and Canada, and which can lead to misunderstanding and miscommunications between cultures. This same “big is better” mindset also leads to another cross-cultural difference – the perception that compared to other world cultures, there is less of an active process in our part of the world to conserve and recycle. Before my environmentally conscious readers jump all over me, think about this very common example – the use of small kitchen appliances such as toasters, microwaves and hand blenders.

ToasterIn the vast majority of countries, when such appliances break, they are repaired, in some cases, over and over again. However, in the U.S. and Canada it’s far cheaper to buy new ones than to try and fix the old ones. One reason is simply that people have more disposable income in this part of the world. But the second relates to our geographical size. In Canada and the U.S. there is, relatively speaking, an abundance of natural resources and thus a general perception that there’s plenty to go around. Ergo, there is no need to repair, just buy a new one.

But this is very puzzling to new entrants to Canada and the United States. Continue reading

The “big is better” mindset can lead to cross-cultural differences

OpenHighwayAbout a month ago I wrote a couple of blog posts about how cross-cultural differences in the workplace can create communication difficulties. My comments back then were about variations in workplace formality and contradictory attitudes about competition. Given that there was a flurry of interest in this subject, I thought that this week I’d raise the topic again by covering two aspects of another factor that can also cause cross-cultural miscommunication. I call this the “big is better” mindset. It is particularly applicable in Canada and the United States, where our large land mass sets us apart from most other countries in the world. One thing that first-time visitors from countries in Europe and Asia often notice right away about Canada and the U.S. is the general belief that “big is better”. Lots of space, long open highways, big cars, huge box stores, large parking lots, giant companies. One colleague visiting from France commented to me recently – “My hotel room is three times the size of the ones that I see in cities in Europe. Even the food portion sizes at restaurants are larger than I have seen anywhere else!” Continue reading

Contradictory attitudes about competition lead to cross-cultural differences

Competition In BusinessEarlier this week I kicked off a discussion about how cross-cultural differences such as variations in expected levels of formality in the workplace can create communication difficulties. Today I want to offer another example of a cross-cultural difference that can create misunderstandings in the world of work – whether or not competition is a good thing.

In Canada, the United States, and many northern European countries, there is a generally accepted understanding that competition is a good thing. In fact, in Canada and the U.S., business is often referred to as a game, and sport analogies are often used. Continue reading

Variations in workplace formality lead to cross-cultural differences

Business Travel 2A client with offices around the world recently asked me for assistance in resolving several communication issues that have arisen between their staff in different country locations. During my numerous conversations with leadership and field staff in this company, it occurred to me repeatedly that cross-cultural differences don’t just exist in companies that have global operations; they also apply to organizations that operate within just one country. The reason: our workforce today is global and culturally diverse; you don’t need to reach across a border to deal with people of different ethnicities and cultural backgrounds!

In fact, I’ve written in the past about the importance of cultural context when communicating – remember when this cola advertisement that failed to deliver, and this toilet freshener product design that went horribly wrong? In this week’s blog posts, I thought I’d explore two examples Continue reading