What Do You Mean?

I have a confession to make.

I’m a Belieber.

I’m not ashamed to admit I love Justin Bieber’s album Purpose and that the lyrics of the song “What do you mean?” resonate with me and my work as an interculturalist:

What do you mean?
When you nod your head yes
But you wanna say no
What do you mean?

People often don’t say what they mean. They get twisted and turned up in their thoughts, worry about how they might come across, or concerned they’ll hurt another’s feelings. While I advocate for politeness and diplomacy in communication, particularly when communicating across cultures, I also think we need to get our message across more directly. Actually, to be more direct, let me rephrase—I think we need to start saying exactly what we mean.

But how can we do this without offending others and hurting our reputations?

There are ways. Here are three:

Think before you speak. Often we get into conversations where we start speaking and it all comes out wrong, especially in emotional situations. In order to ensure you’re concise and clear, think about what you want to say before you say it. Map it out, divide it into three main points and provide a roadmap for your speaking partner. Remember it’s always okay to pause and take some time to collect your thoughts before words come out. Bide yourself some time by using phrases such as “let me think about that for a minute” or “that’s a good question/idea, I’d like to give it some thought.”

Express feelings, not logic. Dig deep and access your true feelings. Avoid getting too “heady” and instead articulate your emotions. For example, if you feel someone is being disrespectful to you, try saying, “It’s confusing and hurtful when you do X and I’d like to talk about it.” As opposed to telling them, “I don’t think you’re being respectful towards me.” Someone is more apt to hear you and empathize when they understand the impact of their actions on your feelings. Plus, statements about yourself are less likely to make someone feel like they’re being attacked and need to go on the defensive. So, you’re more likely to have a productive conversation. 

Tell the truth. This may sound obvious but we’re good at lying to ourselves and therefore others. Delusions don’t help anyone and certainly don’t build trust between you and personal or professional partners. Show commitment to those you live and work with by honestly naming problems and issues—and then suggesting that you work together to confront them head on.

Better make up your mind. What do you mean?

That’s how Justin’s song ends—sort of with an ultimatum. So, in the spirit of his song, I want to give you a challenge. I challenge you to start saying what you mean. Today. You may find it liberating to put your truth out there and not have to worry that people walked away thinking “what do you mean?”

Start saying what you mean! You may find it liberating to put your truth out there! {TWEET THIS}

Image Credit: Fotolia neirfy (modified)

Five Friday Highlights: Olympics, Flags, and More

Global Highlights

This week’s compilation includes many themes and extends to widespread countries. Spanning the grandeur and scale of the Olympics in Brazil, to the difficult lives of those with mental health issues in Indonesia. As is the case with our world, both the grand and the destitute co-exist. I hope you leave your experience of these five pieces having learned something new about our world.

In a nod to tradition, New Zealanders voted, in a recent referendum, to keep their current flag design. The details are spelled out in New Zealand Votes to Keep Flag in Referendum in the BBC News. The proposed replacement would have eliminated the Union Jack, a reminder of the time when New Zealand was a British colony.

Is “born global” the new “born digital”? In The Best Entrepreneurs Think Globally, Not Just Digitally, Michael Schrage in the Harvard Business Review explains how global approaches are increasingly incorporated into businesses from the very beginning. He says innovators and their investors are afraid they will be starting off behind if they “don’t go global from the beginning.” Their concerns are justified; you can’t tack on a global approach as an afterthought.

Mental health considerations and accommodations vary drastically around the world. This candid and difficult look at mental health in Indonesia from CNN explained how pasung, “the practice of confining or restraining relatives with mental health problems — was banned in Indonesia in 1977 but remains startlingly common.” Although our mental health system here in the United States is hardly perfect, the contrast is startling.

As someone who works with organizations to help them manage expansions involving global teams, I see so much opportunity to get it right in situations like Hotset’s. In its press release, Hotset shared the success of bilateral teamwork among its German headquarters and its subsidiaries in America, China, Singapore, Malta and India.

Are you excited about the Summer Olympics in Brazil? In Road to Rio: Brazil Olympics Sees Low Ticket Sales Amid Economic Downturn And Political Scandals, Lydia Tomkiw of the International Business Times covers several fascinating angles of the upcoming games. For the purpose of this compilation, it bears pointing out the intercultural assumptions made by speakers like International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, who reacted to slower-than-expected domestic ticket sales by saying, “Brazilians, they do not buy tickets at such an early stage, as the British or the Germans. There is no concern at all,” at a press conference in early March (as reported by the Associated Press).

Have you read a post or seen a video this week that has helped you have a deeper understanding of a different country or culture? Please e-mail me to let me know; I’d love to see it!

Five Friday Highlights: Gender Parity

Gender Parity

Were you involved in any International Women’s Day (IWD) observances earlier this month? This year’s observance included the #PledgeForParity campaign, which encouraged participants to put gender parity on the agenda on International Women’s Day and beyond. One of today’s featured articles was released specifically for IWD. The others weren’t targeted to the day of observance, but still address important issues of equity and parity.

On International Women’s Day, Richard Branson of Virgin Airlines published Equality is Not Just Women’s Business. Noting that “the World Economic Forum predicts that it will take until 2133 to achieve global gender parity,” Branson explained what his company is doing to make gender parity a reality. He wrote, “Business can and must do so much more to promote equality, respect and fairness. Removing barriers like discrimination and divisions is a necessity for business success. At Virgin, we have … created an environment where all people can thrive – because of who they are, not in spite of it.”

Every individual, female OR male, can make a difference for #GenderParity! ~ {TWEET THIS}

It was a bold statement for Shell United States to proclaim “a new era in supplier diversity openness and transparency has begun” when they introduced their new Shell Supplier Diversity website. Although supplier diversity is a different genre than gender or cultural diversity, by its nature it requires an organization to think differently and to set definitive goals for itself. Shell proclaims it will provide “a storehouse of information, both specific to the energy industry and more general and applicable to working with any multi-national.” It will be interesting to see what happens!

It’s important to note that the very definition of diversity varies depending on perspective. In Millennials Have a Different Definition of Diversity and Inclusion from Fast Company, Lydia Dishman analyzed the results of a study from Deloitte and the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative (BJKLI). Dishman summarized the authors’ advice to leaders: they should “remember that what brought diversity into their company isn’t the same as what it will take to support that talent.”

The Time-Consuming Activities That Stall Women’s Careers from the Harvard Business Review explained that women face a “triple whammy” when trying to find the right balance when managing their time commitments at home and work. The triple whammy includes housework, actual time at work, and the way they spend their time at the office. Most importantly, author Rebecca Shambaugh provided four steps women can take to allocate their time more effectively in order to advance professionally.

I was impressed with this article stating that a strategy will close the gender gap, not that it may close the gender gap! Kristy Wallace of Ellevate explained why senior management engagement is so critical. Creating an Employee Executive Board Will Close the Gender Gap in Business makes the case for a group different than a diversity “committee.” It recommends “an independent internal committee that convenes key stakeholders — the Corporate Board of Directors, senior leadership, clients and employees” — a board with sufficient executive authority to set corporate goals and dictate measures that can move organizations toward those goals.

Did you read something this week that gave you hope for gender parity? I would love to hear about it! Click here to email me with your recommendations!

Getting Comfortable with Being Controversial

Handling Controversy

“This is the worst advice ever!”

“You could not be more correct.”

“As a woman in a dominantly male environment I very much agree.”

“This article is a joke.”

In case you didn’t catch it, responses to my last post on the qualities of successful female leaders were quite polarized. It was certainly more provocative than what I usually write about. Being an interculturalist, I’ve been trained as a relativist where it’s important to recognize multiple perspectives and understand that they can all be true and right—it depends on the culture, the context, or the country where someone is coming from. It’s true that communication style, attitude, or perception may be normal for one person, may not be for others. How one person views something could be viewed the opposite way by someone else.

For me, being a relativist also means keeping harmony. I often use language that’s sensitive to the fact that there are other perspectives out there. I’ll say “my observation has been that” or “some people look at it this way” or “other perspectives are…”

Therefore, when I wrote last week’s article, I knew it would be a lightning rod. Women in business and the path of female leadership has historical (and current) pain. I picked the scab and it bled a little. But through the rich discussion on LinkedIn, I found it enlightening that there were so many reactions. I also reflected on how the controversy made me feel and how I handled the discomfort that came with it. Not natural for me as an interculturalist and relativist.

I’m not sorry that I shared these observations. I think it’s important to have an open conversation and learn how to handle discomfort, particularly as it relates to hot button topics like diversity.

So, upon reflection over the past week, here’s my advice on handling controversial topics—and getting comfortable with the uncomfortable.

  1. Share your observations more than your opinions. Describe what you see and experience. After all, your truth is as true as anyone else’s. If you talk about what you experienced or witness, rather than what you believe, it will hold more validity because it’s based on something that happened. It is your own experience.
  2. Be aware of your filters. But while it’s your own experience, you also have your own lens in which you experience that experience. We all have our own interpretations or filters. So know what yours are. For example, my last post was through the lens of a long-time successful female executive who has traveled to more than forty countries doing business with both female and male leaders all over the world. Other people may have different viewpoints, a different lens through which they look, and they’re just as valid as mine.
  3. Accept that you’re not going to make everyone comfortable all the time. If you’ve experienced something challenging that someone can learn from, share it widely—and be okay that other people may not be comfortable with it. In fact, embrace it and know that by getting people to think, challenge, and even criticize, you’re helping them form their own perspectives more strongly and thoughtfully. Critical thinking ensures that we’re optimizing solutions and having conversations that are more productive, both professionally and personally.

These three tips are how I approach discussing diversity related to race, culture, personality style, sexual orientation…the list goes on…I find that doing it this way instead of approaching hot button topics in a compliance or a “do’s and don’ts” way fosters more enriching conversations. We’re able to identify what we or our organizations need to do to be more open and tolerant, how a business can appeal to more markets or diverse customers and employees, or what a company needs to shift to be more inclusive. I believe having these open, honest, and compassionate conversations will get us to where we need to be to have further success operating in a global world.

Image Credit: Fotolia Feng Yu

3 Qualities of a Successful Female Leader in the Global Workforce

Successful Female Leader

I was once at a talk and got advice that really stuck with me:

Women should walk into a meeting with an all-white suit and they should start crying if anyone upsets them.

Harriet Rubin, author of The Princesa: Machiavelli for Women, tells professional women – albeit in an outrageous way – that we need to embrace and harness our feminine qualities rather than hide them. And if that catches people off-guard, then maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Being genuine to who and what you are instills confidence and can infuse you with power and influence. I find this to be particularly true of women who lead international teams.

In fact, when thinking about the many successful women I have worked with in the global workforce, they share the following three qualities that I think are key to their success:

1. They don’t blend in. You’ll often hear that its paramount to have a global mindset and be able to adapt to culture when leading international teams – heck I preach that all the time! This is true. But the fact is, that’s more important for men than for women. For men, if they ignore cultural nuances, it can be perceived as arrogant. For women, they get some slack. For example, women don’t need to cover themselves completely or act subserviently in certain cultures. Instead, they can dress the way they normally would and find that perfect balance between assertive but friendly behavior. This will garner not only slack, but respect. Now, I’m not saying to walk into a meeting wearing a tank top in Dubai, but women don’t always need to bend the way they do business to fit diverse cultures.

2. They care about their appearance. All the successful women I know dress very elegantly and classically. Their clothes are expensive and their suits are tailored. I know this sounds very superficial but this characteristic helps them gain credibility abroad and among their male counterparts. The care that they put into their appearance communicates that they are someone with influence who should be taken seriously.

3. They exercise. Some of the women I know may do it because it helps their appearance—but that’s really just a fringe benefit. Research shows that people who exercise are more productive. Being active boosts brainpower, gives you more energy, makes you more alert, and lowers stress. These are all vital to being successful professionally. And looking attractive and fit will only help you in the international business world.

Being a female leader of an international team can be tricky but I’ve found that the women who don’t try to be someone else—act like a man or morph into a different nationality—have the most influence and experience the biggest success.

Image Credit: komisar4 / 123RF Stock Photo

Five Friday Highlights: Assumptions and Infrastructure

Global Highlights

In this week’s highlights, we look at assumptions people make about how things are going to be, a situation which can be especially challenging for those working in new countries. We talk a bit about infrastructure, and take a sip from a popular German beverage!

The “light work week” is commonly referred to in discussions of France’s labor climate. Currently, the work week is legally capped at 35 hours. In Working Nine to Four from The Economist, factors contributing to possible changes to this standard are discussed. As the article notes, “for much of the left, the 35-hour week remains not only a badge of progress but the mark of a preference: for shorter hours, more holidays and higher productivity” (the article goes on to point out that France has a higher productivity rate than Britain and Germany). Perhaps the French are struggling to let go of an assumption that the 35-hour week would have more permanence.

In global business, assumptions can provide false reassurance or create unnecessary reservations. {TWEET THIS}

As China Daily notes in China Has the Jobs, Now it Must Promote Them, China has no shortage of jobs for foreign workers. The article quotes Mary Wadsworth Darby as saying, she “believes China is already equipped with everything foreign workers would want, and now it is up to employers to educate their potential employees on what they can offer.” Interestingly, the article discusses how Chinese businesses need to understand expectations American workers have of being able to leave work to spend time with their families, an assumption an American worker could easily take to China only to be surprised when it is not met.

Infrastructure makes a huge difference in the ability to conduct business in a country, for obvious reasons. When I read Africa’s Telecoms Infrastructure: 2015 at a Glance from the itublog, I was reminded why it matters for organizations to plug away at creating infrastructure long before an established need exists. As the author notes, “The real impact of technological innovation is often not felt until long after market introduction – particularly in emerging markets.”

Equal opportunity for each gender matters. This is always a work in progress in Latin America. Women face conditions outlined by Technoserve in Helping Women Build Better Businesses in Latin America, such as “accessing finance without legal ownership or a guarantee” and  “joining traditionally male-dominated business networks.” Technoserve’s business accelerator program serves women in these countries, and was always cognizant that they “had to engage and convince business owners of the necessity of including a gendered lens in their business decisions.”

Lastly, to end on a light note and give you a “taste” of a culturally unique product, enjoy this article from the Wall Street Journal about Spezi, a popular mix of cola and citrus soda. Although an American quoted in the article characterized it as “carbonated swamp juice,” it is a hit in Germany, and some bottlers plan to expand to France and Britain. Brewer Sebastian Priller said, “It gives you the feeling of a Bavarian holiday without the alcohol.” Would you give Spezi a try?

What have you read this week that made you think differently or crave the taste of a different country? Drop me a line at melissa@lamsonconsulting.com and let me know!

Five Friday Highlights: Facing Inequity

While the world today is still unfair, especially for women, it is still possible to knock down walls and make progress. Today, five highlights about the specifics of facing inequity as well as strategies for supporting one another.

We will not be able to fully address gender inequality until we understand it. Take some time to delve into A CEO’s Guide to Gender Inequality from McKinsey & Company. I share the frustration of the authors, who ask “why is progress so slow?”.

In this analytically written yet personally candid post, Gini Dietrich of Spin Sucks describes how Gender and Pay Inequality is Alive and Well in her professional world. Nothing quite helps illuminate inequity like details reinforced by facts and feelings.

One of the points Gini Dietrich made in her gender and pay inequality post, was ” there is nothing worse than another woman not supporting women.” In Career Restartup: Five Ways Women are Helping Each Other Get Back on Track, Betsey Guzior of BizWomen writes that “51 percent of working mothers — compared to 16 percent of working fathers — said they found it difficult to advance in their careers.” She proceeds to share five ways women who have taken extended leaves (such as parental leave) can re-enter the workforce successfully.

Although inequity still flourishes, we can help each other overcome it, one action at a time. {TWEET THIS}

Zooming out a bit from gender-based issues to general employee engagement concerns, I recommend The Role of Communication in Employee Experience and Employer Branding from Talent Culture. Nothing says it better than the second paragraph: “Clear workplace communication leads to team success.”

Lastly, this piece touches on my interests in communication, gender, and culture. If you have ever had to present to a multi-cultural audience, you may have discovered that what elicits hilarious laughter in the US may not have the same effect in Taipei! The suggestions in The Serious Business of Being Funny are excellent.

What have you read this week that made you think differently or laugh harder? Drop me a line at melissa@lamsonconsulting.com and let me know!

Image Credit: Fotolia Sergey Nivens

Are We Hypocrites?: A Discussion about Materialism and Mindfulness

Not long ago I was in Singapore and bumped into a long line stretching around the corner. The excitement of whatever these people were waiting for pulsed through the streets of the city. What was it? The latest Louis Vuitton bag. Now, if I had followed some of these people after they bought their bag, I probably would see them stuff lululemon pants and yoga mats into it and end up at a yoga studio or meditation course.

This got me thinking. Is this global phenomenon of materialism and mindfulness—lusting over material objects yet learning exercises to be centered, conscious, and mindful—a contradiction? Do we find the same sense of pleasure or inner-peace by achieving a “live in the moment attitude” as we do coveting the newest Prada sunglasses?

In the workplace, everyone’s talking about compassion, transparency, ethics, and conscious business. But in the same breath, they’re talking about the latest iPhone or newest Gucci shoe line. There’s a mass surge for materialism worldwide, particularly in what I call the emerged markets such as Russia, China or the United Arab Emirates, where buying name brands gives the appearance of having success and status and therefore gains the respect of others.

At the same time, there’s a mass surge for mindfulness, workplace wellness, social responsibility, and social consciousness. People are taking work-life balance courses and more businesses are holding workplace yoga and meditation sessions to help employees get in touch with their inner-selves and heal the mind and body. But as soon as we step off the mat, we’re back to trying to keep up with the latest consumer trends.

I find it odd how materialism and mindfulness seem to coexist so peacefully. I grew up in a generation where, if you practiced yoga, you weren’t wearing $200 pants. Your sweats had holes in them because what you were wearing didn’t matter. What you were doing did. Eating organic meant eating something grown in your backyard—not leaving your whole paycheck at Whole Foods.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy beautiful things and name brands as much as the next person. And I’m not afraid to tell you that I waited hours for my new iPhone not because I needed it but because I wanted it. But I don’t think these external things define who I am or give me a sense of inner-peace. So why do we need to practice both materialism and mindfulness?

While I may see these acts as running counter to one another, maybe I’m missing something and I want to hear from you:

Do you see materialism and mindfulness as contradictory?

If you do, what do you think would remedy this contradiction, or dare I say, hypocrisy?

If you don’t see it as contradictory, where do you think we’ll be in twenty years? Where will materialism and consumerism be then? What about mindfulness?

Fotolia: kikkerdirk