May 2017, Volume 1, Issue 1
Global Leadership

If You Want To Be Understood, Ask Open Ended Questions!

When communicating in a language other than your native language, people have a tendency to say yes when asked a question, even if they don't understand what was asked.

This is even true when they are asked, "Do you understand?"

The next time you are interacting cross-culturally, ask an open-ended question such as, "Can you tell me what you need to do next?" instead of "Do you understand?" If the person is unable to answer what they need to do, then you know that you need to explain further.

Thriving in Foreign Cultures

Insights: Direct vs. Indirect Communication Styles

Below are a few examples of direct and indirect communication styles and how you can better understand them.

#1 Practice speaking indirectly

Insight: The direct way of communicating may strike some listeners as too harsh.

This exercise gives you a chance to practice the skill of indirect communication. You are presented with a few direct statements. Try to rephrase them to make them indirect. The first phrase is decoded for you.

1. I don't think that's such a good idea. Do you think that's a good idea?
Are there any other ideas?
I like most parts of that idea.
2. I don't agree.
3. I think we should.

#2 Practice decoding indirect communication

Insight: The actual meaning of words may not be what an indirect communicator is saying.

This exercise is the opposite of the one above. Here, you are presented with a few indirect statements and asked to decode them. The first statement has been done for you. (Right side is what they are saying; the left side is what they really mean).

1. That is an interesting point of view. I don't agree?
We need to talk more?
It seems okay.
2. We will try our best.
3. This topic deserves further consideration.

Answers: #1 Practice speaking indirectly: 2. I don't agree - translates to: I have another idea. What do you think of this idea? May I make a suggestion? 3. I think we should - can mean: I have a possible suggestion. What do you think of this? Perhaps we could do.....

Answers: #2 Practice decoding indirect communication: - 2. We will try our Best. - could mean: Don't expect much to happen. Not now, maybe later. It may never happen. 3. This topic deserves further consideration. - may actually mean: We don't want to talk about this now. We need to consult with other people. We don't agree.

Understanding the subtle meaning of messages are sometimes more important than the words being used.

Beyond Borders

Cultural Blunders

The following illustrate how crucial cultural awareness is in international business:

  1. A US telephone company tried to market its products and services to a Latino population by showing a commercial in which a wife tells her husband to call a friend, telling her that they would be late for dinner. The commercial failed. Latin women do not order their husbands around and their use of time would not require a call about lateness.

  2. An American business person refused an offer of a cup of coffee from a Saudi businessman. Such a rejection is considered very rude and the business negotiations stalled.

  3. A Japanese manager in an American company was told to give critical feedback to a subordinate during a performance evaluation. Japanese use high context communication and are uncomfortable giving direct feedback. It took the manager five tries before he could be direct enough to discuss the poor performance so that the American understood.

  4. One company printed the "OK" finger sign on each page of its catalog. In many parts of Latin America that is considered an obscene gesture. Six months of work were lost because they had to reprint all the catalogs.

  5. The American Dairy Association attempted to expand its "Got Milk?" campaign into Mexico. However, the Spanish translation literally meant "Are you Lactating?"

  6. Mountain Bell tried to promote its telephone and services to Saudis. Its ad portrayed an executive talking on the phone with his feet propped up on the desk, showing the soles of his shoes -- something an Arab would never do.

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