Intercultural blog articles

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8 questions about experiential training answered

training providerslargeHave you ever tried teaching a child a new skill? Take learning to swim as an example. You could give a detailed description of the process and then expect them to remember and follow your instructions, or you could let them get on with it, learn in their own way. Learning in their own way will certainly result in some frustrations, but through this experience of trial and error they are more likely to remember for themselves the best way to get to the result.

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We think that experiencing real situations and learning from what you experience is key to all learning. And so, clearly, do a lot of big thinkers before us. Benjamin Franklin said “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn”. Long before him, Aristotle said “For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them”.

James Culver

What is experiential training?

Experiential learning is the process of learning through experience – and more specifically the process of “learning through reflecting on what you’re doing / just did”. It’s been around for a very long time.

Why is experiential training so powerful in management and soft skills solutions?

The gentlemen I mentioned above were onto something. These observations still ring true today, especially when we want people to learn behaviors to apply in the workplace. Learning by doing is great for children, but as adults in the workplace we can really add the additional aspect of reflecting on how our behaviors affect outcomes. This is the experiential advantage.

How can experiential training help you retain information and embed behaviors?

Dr. Igor Kokcharov’s did some research into this and came up with this pretty useful pyramid. If you take a look at it, you can see how learning by doing with coach led reflection and practice gives participants the best chance to retain necessary information.

 pyramidexplearning

 

Who’s using the experiential training approach?

A lot of adult learning approaches in a broad range of fields from corporate to military, and from emergency services to care work, make use of this experiential advantage. Business schools use the approach with simulation exercises, and critical incident gaming can be found in government agencies and board rooms alike. At Target Training, our experience is that experiential training can do much more. It can increase awareness of behaviors, particularly those with negative consequences. It else has the power to challenge current approaches in a developmental, non-judgmental way.  If experiential training is established, we can focus on the individual’s needs and deliver tangible change. This fits perfectly when developing soft and management skills.

What does experiential training look like in the training environment?

Put very, very simply, experiential training = do + debrief + do it again.  You might be thinking that sounds pretty boring – why go to training to do the same thing a couple of times over? Think about the result you’re looking for though. You’re going to training not to learn a bunch of theory, but to be able to go back to your workplace and do something differently. Experiential training is all about working in the real world.  Whether in a well-designed activity or on-the job, you behave the way you do. After observing you in action, the trainer/coach leads you through a consequence-based conversation, talking you through the behaviors he or she observed. They also link what they have seen with alternatives to help improve the outcome. You develop new skills and can then apply them to a new experience. You learn to recognize “triggering events” in your work environment and can choose to use the new behavior in training – and beyond.

How does it work?

Here are some of the elements which are key to successful experiential training:

Training environment

By creating a positive, encouraging environment in the training room. This help you to act as you normally do and feel comfortable with trying out new skills. The more you can share the behavior-consequence based feedback the trainer gives you, the easier it will be to identify and close any behavior gaps.

Debriefing

The debriefing stage is key. New information necessary to support new behaviors is introduced here.

Varied interaction and activities

Challenging, timed group and pair work problem solving activities to raise the stress level so participants communicate as themselves.

What can I expect from my trainer?

The trainer’s role is not to present you with lots of information. They act more as a coach and are responsible for creating a developmental, experiment-friendly environment in the training room.

What do I need to do to make experiential training a success?

Be open. To be effective, experiential soft skills training requires you to fully participate in experiences, as well as being willing to reflect and identify behavior gaps with others. None of us would feel comfortable about learning to swim through guided discussion or a PowerPoint presentation. Experiential soft skills training puts you in the deep water of communication situations. This allows you to see a need for new behaviors that will lead to better consequences on the job. You practice these behaviors through experiences in a safe, leaner-centered environment. And will then feel ready to dive back into your working environment to try out these new behaviors.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

We work with the 70-20-10 model. My colleagues and I are available to tell you more about how we can implement the right training for your needs. To help you find a training provider, please download our eBook THE DEFINITIVE CHECKLIST FOR QUALIFYING TRAINING PROVIDERS.

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When is praise an insult?

target training

During a recent presentation skills seminar for a French organization, I observed participants as they presented. I offered only feedback on the positive behaviors I saw. As we went through the round, the managing director of the group of participants couldn’t wait any longer and interrupted the feedback session by asking where was the criticism? It was obvious that the presenters were doing things that would get in the way of their presentation goals, (from audible pauses to nervous movement), and I was doing them a disservice by not pointing out the negatives. He did give me the cultural excuse of being a positive, American trainer. Yet his message was clear, the group needed correction more than praise to develop. For the record, I think both praise and correction are appropriate (and it’s true that unspecific praise can feel condescending and counterproductive, as if the recipient is too immature to take correction as a way to improve).

Praise is a complex concept that crosses many cross cultural communication styles and its effectiveness is personal as well. For example: The German culture offers the view of a foundation of trust in the working relationship. You have a job because the company feels you can do it. This general level of trust is positive enough to not require reinforcement through praise. In fact, praising someone for just “doing his job” can be insulting as if the expectations of performance are low.

How praise gets delivered is also of importance to judgements of its sincerity. In some work cultures, being singled out for enthusiastic praise if front of a group would be gratifying to the person receiving it while cultures that use more restrained emotional styles might find expressive, public praise embarrassing and impersonal. Groups using collectivist approaches would recognize team accomplishments over individual ones. Groups using individualist approaches would do the opposite.

Our brand will come from what we are very good at doing, not from correcting mistakes to an acceptable level.

James Culver

How to get it right? Praise helps us know the right way to do things so we can recognize and track behaviors we want to develop. Praise lets others know your priorities, the organization’s focus and their path forward. Done well, praise is an important tool in developing focus and innovation. Observational praise also enhances the credibility of the observer, as praise is specifically tied to authentic, recognizable behaviors the recipient and observer can agree happened.

Observe. How do people in your organization know they are on the right track? Mirror the praise behaviors in your organization and expand that style with your own approach. Note how the recipient is meeting your high standards. Let that stand for a while so it is credible.

 

  1. State why you are complimenting the employee

Sentences:

* We have thoroughly enjoyed our relationship with your company, especially because your customer service representative, John Doe, has been so helpful.
* Your representative, Jane Doe, is to be commended for her outstanding work on your last project.
* We want you to know how impressed we were with the way Jane Doe handled the delinquent accounts.
* During a recent internal audit, John Doe found a rather large discrepancy in our financial records. Had he not found that error, our corporation could have faced heavy legal fees.
* I want to tell you how pleased I am with the landscaping plan your new intern prepared for me.

Phrases:

* a very helpful attitude
* among the finest I’ve seen
* by your co-workers
* commendations and congratulations
* convey my appreciation to
* exceptional work done by
* express my appreciation for
* has been extremely helpful
* have thoroughly enjoyed
* have been deeply impressed
* have come to admire
* how pleased we have been
* how impressed we were
* how highly we think of his efforts
* how much we appreciate
* how pleased I am
* is to be commended for
* please accept
* received exceptional service
* want to let you know
* with the services of

 

  1. Acknowledge the employee’s qualities that made the contribution worthwhile

Sentences:

* His attention to detail helped our work move smoothly, without a single legal snag.
* His broad knowledge of the machinery has helped our trouble shooters keep the assembly line moving during the periods of heaviest demand.
* Her public relations skills helped us collect on most of the accounts that others had given up on. We hope she will be available for future cooperation.
* We commend his attention to detail. He is the most thorough accountant we have had work on our books.
* She has a good sense for balance, with the right mix of colors and textures.

Phrases:

* a pleasure to work with
* an excellent sense of
* attention to detail
* broad knowledge of
* consistently gone out of her way to
* courteous, well-trained staff
* dependable and thoughtful
* diligence and skill
* efficiently and with good humor
* going the extra mile
* has helped us to
* intelligent and cooperative
* made sure everything ran smoothly
* never-failing professionalism
* one of your company’s greatest assets
* particularly astute in
* professional and courteous
* public relations skills
* stays calm under pressure
* the time and thought he put into
* took care of all the details
* took the trouble to
* went out of his way to
* willingness to help

 

  1. Express appreciation and wishes for continued success

Sentences:

* Thanks again for assigning him to work with us. Best wishes for the future.
* We send our warm regards and wish you continued success.
* We wish you similar successes with your other clients.
* Please convey our appreciation to Jane for a job well done. We hope we can work together again.
* May your future endeavors be as successful as this one has been.
* You are fortunate to have Jane as an employee. Best wishes to her and the rest of you at Doe Corporation.

Phrases:

* are looking forward to
* best wishes for
* congratulations on your
* continue your tradition of
* convey my compliments to
* how much we appreciate
* keep up the good work
* one of your greatest assets
* our sincere thanks and appreciation
* our warmest regards
* please let everyone involved know
* please pass my appreciation on to
* please thank him for us
* thank you for
* thanks to the efficiency of
* want you to know
* will assure the continued success of
* wish you continued success
* working together again
* would like to thank her for

 

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Evaluating existing training suppliers

Once a decision has been made for a training supplier and the first delivery has been checked for quality and suitability, we usually move on to other things. In reality, this can mean that a training provider delivers the same training measure again and again over years, without its contents being updated to current business needs or checking that the agreed contents are still being used by the selected trainer. Use the following topics to structure how you evaluate your existing training suppliers.

How up-to-date are you?

Evaluating your existing training provider starts in your own office. As you are responsible for the training measure(s) that your provider is delivering, you should have up-to-date information on the latest participant evaluations, seminar documentation and hand-outs. The older your own documentation is, the quicker you need to evaluate your training provider:

  • When did you last have a status meeting with your training provider? What was decided?
  • What can you learn if you compare participants’ evaluations over time?
  • If you don´t have a copy of the seminar documentation on your server, how quickly does your training provider hand out a copy to you?

How do you check the quality of existing training measures?

Regular quality management should be one of the key tasks of HR development but, unfortunately, everyday operational topics regularly push this to the bottom of the list. On the other hand, evaluating the quality of training measures ensures that you´re spending money on relevant training measures that support your business:

  • Does the seminar documentation (key messages about leadership and teamwork, cultural focus, takeaways, etc.) still reflect the current business climate and needs in your organisation? What needs to be updated?
  • Learn from the participants: What expectations does a participant have going into a training event? How are these expectations met after the training? What takeaways are still present 4-6 weeks later?
  • Observe (or participate in) a training event: Is the seminar documentation relevant? Are the key messages suitable for your business reality? Is the trainer still motivated?
  • Talk to your trainer: How does he/she suggest incorporating into the training content what they learn from the participants about your business environment?

How reliable is your current training provider?

A good training provider understands your business and provides a training event that fits your organisation’s culture and industry. In addition, you can rely on them to keep you up-to-date on critical topics arising in their trainings, or to provide you with interesting ideas that synergise with your business:

  • Does your training provider keep you up-to-date with what is new on the market? Do they actively come up with new ideas which benefit your business?
  • Does your training provider shy away from the idea of working with another provider (or with an internal trainer) at your request to deliver a customised training measure?
  • Do you get enough training dates from your training provider? Does he/she keep these dates and/or offer back-up trainers or alternative dates?

Is your contract up to date?

Once signed, companies rarely update contracts with training providers even though a discussion of training fees seems to be a regular event. Nonetheless, important factors such as travel expenses or secondary costs need to be checked on a regular basis. Also, legal requirements, e.g. confidentiality or data protection, change over time and need to be adhered to:

  • Do the agreed payment terms still fit current purchasing standards in your company?
  • Do the training rates meet market standards? Does the number of training measures provided justify a re-negotiation of fees?
  • How dependent are you on your training provider to deliver this training measure? Does this fit with your HR strategy or should you have a wider pool of providers?
  • Do you have an up-to-date confidentiality agreement with your training provider?
  • Does your training provider charge you separately for materials? Is the seminar documentation relevant or can you send key documents via email to save costs?

Download our eBook to learn more

There are thousands of training providers out there and many promise great things. But how can you really find out if they are the right fit? After all, it’s essential that you don’t risk wasting your employees’ working time or your hard-won training budget! Download the eBook.

By Fiona Higginson

Fiona’s corporate career in human resources started in 1997, and is characterized by her focus on the design and/or delivery of high-quality HRD measures and instruments.She’s worked in multinational corporations in both manufacturing and service industries, from DAX – 30 listed global players to medium-sized organizations. Fiona is a certified trainer and coach and
has degrees in Developmental Learning and International Affairsfrom Ireland, Germany and the UK. She speaks fluent English and German, as well as Spanish and French. She recently
established her own consultancy: www.fionahigginson.com
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Qualifying potential training providers

Virtual teams target training

training providerslargeThe key to assessing potential training providers is to find out how well they fit to what you want to achieve with the training. It’s important to get to the point quickly and here are a few questions that can help you decide if the people you’re talking to are ‘right’ for your company. 

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The definitive checklist for qualifying training providers

Are they prepared?

Before you present your company and situation to them, let the training provider describe what he/she already knows about your organisation. At the very least, they should have done their homework by reading the homepage. The most impressive of providers will already have incorporated your internal company language into their (written or oral) presentation:

  • If you sent them information prior to the meeting, are they referring to its content correctly?
  • Have they picked up any company brochures while they were waiting for you in the lobby?
  • Do you have to repeat yourself or are they listening to you describe your organisation attentively? (taking notes, rephrasing what you said, using company language)
  • Does their presentation reflect what you are looking for?

What kind of business do they have?

You need to know whether you´re dealing with a one-man-show (flexible to your needs but limited in scope) or a training company (offers standard content but can provide wider services). Additionally, you need to know how their business model fits your company and whether their training approach is compatible with the leadership culture in your organisation:

  • How many people work there?
  • Can they provide you with trainer profiles?
  • Who would you work with on the actual design of training content and why is he/she the most qualified?
  • What kind of international work have they done in the past?
  • What is their policy should a trainer drop out at the last minute? (replacement, back-up)
  • Which institutions do they cooperate with? (business schools, leadership think tanks)

How do they approach designing training content for new clients?

You can buy standardised content from any reliable provider, or you can ask a provider to customise training content to your situation and needs. If you choose the customized training option, you can ask:

  • How do they normally go about creating a new design for a first-time client? (design phases, milestones, client approval, dry runs)
  • What do they suggest they need to get to know your organisation in order to be able to create a suitable design? (discovery interviews with stakeholders, plant visits)
  • What level of customisation are they willing to provide? (adoption of company-internal language/abbreviations, integration of company goals/competences/principles into training content, incorporation of internal specialists in training programmes)

What methods of quality management do they apply?

No training measure should be an individual, stand-alone event. Any professional training provider should have a variety of methods to ensure the applicability of training content to the business and the transfer of learning to the workplace. For longer-term or repetitive measures, they should suggest methods to maintain high-quality content and to review and update these contents to your changing business environment:

  • Other than the typical “happy sheets”, what kind of evaluation methods do they offer?
  • What methods have they used successfully in the past to ensure an effective learning transfer? (also ask about negative experiences and their underlying causes)
  • What is their approach towards blended learning? If you have an online learning platform, how could the training contents be linked back to it?
  • What certifications do they possess? (industry certificates like ISO or individual certification like personality diagnostics)

What are their expectations regarding contracting?

Most companies have internal standards about contracting external suppliers, whether it be about payment terms or travel regulations. Most training providers do not like to have to accommodate their contracting terms but, as the customer, you should ensure that the contract details suit your business:

  • What are their daily rates? (beware of different rates for design, preparation and delivery)
  • What kind of payment terms do they suggest? (timing of invoices, listing of travel expenses, payment of instalments)
  • If they create materials customised to your organisation, what are the intellectual property considerations? (ideally, you should be able to use this material internally for other purposes)

What references can they provide?

Ultimately, you need to check the references of any training provider before contracting them. Be aware, however, that some references given may be outdated or refer to projects not applicable to what you require for your business:

  • What other similar clients have they worked for in the recent past? (same industry, similar size, similar business model)
  • What other similar projects have they successfully run in the recent past? (focus of contents, hierarchy level of participants, scope of measures)
  • Can they give you the name/contact details of reference clients? (a good provider will want to check with that client first!)

By Fiona Higginson

Fiona’s corporate career in human resources started in 1997, and is characterized by her focus on the design and/or delivery of high-quality HRD measures and instruments.She’s worked in multinational corporations in both manufacturing and service industries, from DAX – 30 listed global players to medium-sized organizations. Fiona is a certified trainer and coach and
has degrees in Developmental Learning and International Affairsfrom Ireland, Germany and the UK. She speaks fluent English and German, as well as Spanish and French. She recently
established her own consultancy: www.fionahigginson.com

Building authentic intercultural business relationships – part 3

The 7 dimensions of culture, and how does intercultural theory actually help you in business?

Why is the contract often seen as the end to a negotiation to Germans yet viewed as part of the negotiation process in China? If you are presenting, where do you put your summary? Sounds obvious – but is it? Why should you put your summary at the front when presenting to Americans (bottom line up front) And why would you start big picture and then summarize at the end if your audience was French?

Few things are as complex as human behaviour, and understanding cultures beyond a superficial level is never easy. This is where a little practical theory comes in.  If you know that specific cultures like to get to the specifics quickly via an “executive summary” (US, Dutch) and that more diffuse cultures want a holistic view, with a big picture (France, Japan) then you can structure your presentation to be successful, regardless of the nationality of your audience.

In this interview, Dr Fons Trompenaars, the best-selling author of Riding the Waves of Culture and one of the world’s leading management thinkers, explains how theory can concretely impact tangible business scenarios such as negotiating, presenting and leading others.

Effective intercultural training needs theoretical models which work hand in hand with practical exercises and activities – and this is where the 7 dimensions of culture adds real value. It can simplify complexity, and is easy to recall and explain. If you’d like to know more about the model check out mindtools.com, for a great explanation and practical advice.

And we’ll leave you with a final few words from Fons on how culture and communication are entwined.

Interview with Dr Trompenaars

Also online:

Building authentic intercultural business relationships – part 2

There’s a great English expression “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”.  I’ve found this to be a practical starting point when working with clients to build their intercultural competence. Why? Because not every problem comes back to cultural differences! So many other factors play a part in relationships.  The first step is to recognize is this actually a difference in culture? And if yes, how am I different to this culture?

How can the Intercultural Awareness Profiler (IAP) and the 4 R’s help you succeed globally?

This is where the IAP and the 4Rs model add tangible value. Developed by Dr Fons Trompenaars, the IAP does a great job of explaining what these steps need to look like, and why  “knowing” that Chinese culture value the group’s needs over the individual’s needs doesn’t necessarily translate into performance, commitment and results. During an interview with Dr Trompenaars we asked him to briefly explain the 4Rs model in his own words, and how he saw the Intercultural Awareness Profile tool within the context of the 4Rs.

To summarize…

Recognize

Can you recognize that you are dealing with differences in cultures? How do you as an individual differ from those cultures? For example, ss the different approach to decision making you’re struggling with a cultural dilemma? Or a question of personality? And most importantly – what is the dilemma?

Respect

Can you genuinely respect that the differing approaches are not better or worse – just a different way of operating. Do you respect that they are equally valid and legitimate?  For example, is coming to decisions through a consensus as valid as coming to decisions through the “expert” deciding, or by the “boss” deciding?

Reconcile

Now that you’ve recognized the difference and genuinely respect them how do you reconcile the dilemma facing you? What do you do?  How can you come to an agreement? How are you going to make decisions?

Root

How will you take what is working and make it part of your day to day modus operandi? Will you forge a team culture that is transcultural (bridges all cultures)?

Interview with Dr Trompenaars

Also online:

Building authentic intercultural business relationships – part 1

Doing business with another culture can be many things – exciting, intimidating, rewarding, challenging … and intercultural training should play a key role in helping your team to prepare to succeed globally. But what should you be asking for? And how can you evaluate the many many options out there? A recent coaching session showed the dilemma perfectly. Martin, a senior materials purchaser was about to start a relationship with an Indian supplier – and their very first question to us was “So, what should I do, and not do, when I’m in Mumbai?”.

A “does and don’ts” sort of approach can be useful if you are focussing on a single culture and in a real hurry. Starting from a position of concern and wanting to be aware of tricky situations make sense -but it brings with it a range of difficult questions. Intercultural training doesn’t stop with knowing the do’s and don’ts. Nor does it stop with just theory. But, who knows to say “I have to go to Mumbai in 2 week’s time. I’d like to learn about some theory and an intercultural model”.

The limits of a do’s and don’ts approach to intercultural training

SMALL TALKThink for a moment of your own culture. How easy would it be for you to tell someone how they should act when they come to your country? Do all of the people in your country act the same, react the same, or think the same? A list of do’s and don’ts doesn’t explain the reasons behind cultural behaviours, so would it really help you to do business in that country?

Now don’t get me wrong. Do’s and don’ts

  • can provide a sense of security,
  • are easy to engage with,
  • they simplify a challenging situation.

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“Understanding one’s own cultural profile is key to enhancing job performance and bottom line business results when working with other cultures.”
Fons Trompenaars

How does the IAP differ from a do’s and don’t’s approach to intercultural skills building?

Dr Fons Trompenaars is the best-selling author of Riding the Waves of Culture and one of the world’s leading management thinkers. He is also the architect behind the Intercultural Awareness Profiler (IAP) – a self-assessment and diagnostic tool. The Intercultural Awareness Profile (IAP) is designed to assess the personal orientation and choices that individuals make when resolving intercultural business issues. We asked him “How does the IAP differ from a does and don’ts approach? “ , and this is what he said …

Building business relationships through understanding

The Intercultural Awareness Profiler (and the theory of the 7 dimensions of culture the IAP is based upon) offers you a robust basis to understand the dos and don’ts . Once you understand more about why people act a certain way, you can start to think about how you should act when e.g. presenting your product, managing staff, negotiating a framework agreement. The IAP provides a deeper level of understanding, meaning you don’t just recognize but also respect differences between cultures. Without that, how can you build authentic business relationships?

Interview with Dr Trompenaars

Also online:

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Negotiation tactics – Why silence is golden

A few weeks ago I was chatting to a purchaser who worked in the automotive industry. The conversation drifted to the topic of negotiating and we began to compare countries and styles. The purchaser, a Norwegian, said half in jest but seriously enough, “You English cannot handle silence”. As a full-blooded Brit I can only agree. Many cultures, especially Scandinavians, are more comfortable with silence than others. But why is this? The impact of culture on how we communicate is certainly a factor. When I lived in Sweden I had the impression Swedes and Finns took a long time to thaw out and small talk consisted of a “Jaaaah”.  The English, on the other hand, feel uncomfortable with silence and will often fill the air with meaningless chatter.

The big (free) eBook of negotiations language



“A Finn and a Swede go into a sauna.  After 30 minutes the Swede says “It’s hot in here”.  The Finn replies “You Swedes – you talk too much.”

Why am I sharing this? If, like me, you’re from a culture where communication is direct, silence is a hard skill to master. But whether it’s a cultural norm, a question of personality, or even a trained skill, being comfortable with silence when negotiating is essential if you want to reach your goals.  When used in a subtle and careful manner, silence can reshape negotiations and extract surprising amounts of information while leaving your counterpart feeling they are in charge of the conversation.

Value added question + silence = insight

A good negotiator, no matter what nationality, will probably be assertive but charming, have good questioning skills, and handle pressure well. Questioning skills are a must – and here silence plays a role. Silence can prompt your counterpart to share more than they planned to – verbally or non-verbally.

Poor negotiators will often answer their own question: “What price were you thinking of? I was going to suggest something in the region of € 105 per unit.”. Poor negotiators do not ask enough value added questions – a value added question being one that makes the other party pause and consider, e.g. “How did you arrive at that figure?” “What are the consequences for your clients?” “How can we help you sell this concept inside your organisation?” Answering value added questions needs time. Use the silence to observe your partner.

You have the right to be silent

Let’s assume you have asked a good question and the other party is taking his/her time to answer. A few seconds is not a problem, but after ten it can become tense. Learn to look serene and confident, smile at the other party, look at your notes and scribble something. Stay connected to the other party with body language and eye contact. At some point the other party may buy time and say “I’ll get back to you.” Alternatively you can also suggest moving on to another point. But give silence a chance.

And if the roles are reversed you have the right to be silent. Do not shoot from the hip with a half-baked, badly thought through answer. Learn to be comfortable with silence. “I’m thinking this through”, “I’d like to explore this idea, give me a minute” or “I’ll get back to you.” will buy you time.

Learning to use silence in negotiations – the role of training and practice

Silence has to be practised and refined in training or coaching. Training helps you become aware of your relationship to silence; then develop the skills to use it subtly and effectively through role plays, real plays and critical incidents. Training goves you the opportunity to repeat situations and develop awareness, confidence and mechanisms for handling silence. You can practice asking the right questions, leaving room for the other party to develop a sensible answer, practice NOT shooting from the hip, and practice behavioural strategies that make the silence comfortable for both you and your opposite number.

And remember – when negotiating silence is not a threat; silence is golden.

3 Entertaining TED talks on culture

Cross cultural communication

Pellegrino Riccardi

SMALL TALKGreat to listen to, Pellegrino (an Italian/Brit living in Norway) explores how culture is shaped by preconceived perceptions and people see what they want to see. He argues that successfully working across cultures means that you have to accept that your assumptions are not necessarily the assumptions of others. Each culture has different ideas of what is accepted and familiar – and Pellegrino brings this to life with entertaining anecdotes, some great photos and his ability to mimic accents. He finishes with an appeal for transcultural behaviour.

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Why is small talk so big in America?

Riding the waves of culture

Fons Trompenaars

As humorous as always, Fons Trompenaars explores how cultural misunderstanding can cause crisis. He start off with reminding us of the time when Americans were in America and the Chinese were in China and management theories worked – but now we have multicultural teams – so what does today’s manager do?

Fons argues that the challenge today is to reconcile cultures and create a paradigm that works across cultures. He then uses the “pedestrian dilemma” and the “peach and the coconut” analogy to remind us that regardless of where you’re from every culture faces the same dilemmas. The question is how can today’s organizations “crack the line” and build a transcultural organization?

Everything you always wanted to know about culture

Saba Safdar

Starting with a quick look at what is culture (“culture is like water to fish”) this video then looks at the specific cultural dimension of individualism and collectivism (aka communitarianism). Entertainingly, it then looks at how culture manifests itself in communication – with a smile-inducing focus on how individualism and collectivism manifests itself in insults and humour.

This is the first TED video I’ve seen where the speaker asks the audience to please shout out insults and then says thanks after hearing “moron”, and shows how insults changes across cultures based upon the importance of the individual versus the importance of the group. It then turns to humour and it does and does not cross cultures. The video clip at 14:55 where the Australian newscaster is telling a joke about the Dalai Lama to the Dalai Lama is cringe worthy.

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8 great books for busy managers you may have missed in 2015

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It seems as though 2016 has only just started, but it’s February already! We know you’re really busy, so we thought we’d help out by reviewing 8 of the best management books from 2015 for you. If any of the summaries grab you, why not read the whole book?

1001meetingsphraseslargeThis (Target) eBook

1001 Meetings phrases is a useful toolkit of phrases for the most typical meeting situations you find yourself in…

 

Team Genius: The New Science of High-Performing Organizations (13 Aug 2015)

Rich Karlgaard and Michael S. Malone

Did you know that actually the right team size is usually one fewer that most managers think they need? And that “chemistry” doesn’t equate to team success? Can you spot the right moment when one team needs to be dissolved to create another very different team? And are your teams really leveraging multicultural values as a strength?

Written for today’s managers, Team Genius reviews and explains the latest scientific research into how teams behave and perform and uses simple case studies and examples to bring it to life in a way that any manager can relate to.. It shows that much of the accepted wisdom about teams just doesn’t hold true – and then goes on to outline “new truths” and how to achieve them.

Stronger: Develop the Resilience You Need to Succeed (1 Sept 2015)

George Everly Jr, Douglas Strouse and Dennis McCormack

If you get turned off when you see the author is a “great business school professor”, “world-famous CEO” or “top management thinker” then this might be the book for you. Everly, Jr.is an expert in disaster mental health, and McCommack is a former Army psychologist and was one of the first original Navy Seals.

Drawing heavily on the psychology employed by US Navy Seals plus other examples from all walks of life, this book focuses on how we can each build our resilience and be “stronger” when everything seems to be falling apart. More importantly the book outlines how we need to practice building up our resilience (psychological body armor) before we actually need it. The five key factors the book explores are

  • Active optimism
  • Decisive action
  • Moral compass
  • Relentless tenacity
  • Interpersonal support

Each area is outlined in detail with case studies and research. A quick warning though – being written by 3 psychologists, it’s not an airport quick-read.

Leadership: Essential Writings by Our Greatest Thinkers (9 Oct 2015)

Elizabeth D. Samet (editor)

When you think about it, it’s amazing that this book hasn’t been complied sooner – management and leadership books aren’t a 20th century creation. General fiction, biographies, great literature etc have reflected core management and leadership questions for centuries.

This anthology draws our attention to 102 stunningly diverse extracts from fiction, speeches, anthropology, letters, songs, and even the odd occasional poem! The extracts from Machiavelli, Macbeth, Ghandi, Didion, Ovid, Melville, Mandela, Lao Tzu, Orwell plus many many more all invites us to step back and think about leadership. Excellent reading for just before you take the dog for a long walk.

Bridging the Soft Skills Gap: How to Teach the Missing Basics to Today’s Young Talent (7 Oct 2015)

Bruce Tulgan 

“They just don′t know how to behave professionally.”, “They know how to text but they don′t know how to write a memo.”, “They don′t know how to think, learn, or communicate without checking a device.”

Today′s new young workforce (also known as Millenials or generation Z,) has so much to offer – new technical skills, new ideas, new perspectives, new energy. All great stuff- but Tulgan also argues that research shows that employers across industries feel that too many Milennials have weak soft skills. As a few of the many case studies outline “they only want to do what they want to do” and ”his technical knowledge far surpassed anyone else in the firm … but his communication made him seem so immature”.

Renowned expert on the Millennial workforce Bruce Tulgan offers concrete solutions to help managers and HRD professionals alike teach the missing basics of professionalism, critical thinking, and followership. The book includes 92 step–by–step “lesson plans” designed for managers to use, and these include “take home” exercises, one-on-one discussion frameworks and training room activities.

In a nutshell, I can’t imagine a more complete or practical book than this.

Leading Across New Borders: How to Succeed as the Center Shifts (21 Sept 2015)

Ernest Gundling and Christi Caldwell 

Leading a global organization is no longer just a big businesses challenge.  Even small company owners can be leading a virtual team that includes people from all over the world – and just yesterday we spoke with a HR manager with 60 employees in 11 countries and 23 cities.

This books aims to guide you through this new business environment. It features stories from people in critical roles around the world, advice based on practical experience, and shares new research which outlines the distinctive challenges of leading in a virtual and multicultural environment … and cultural awareness isn’t enough! Happily the book also includes strategies, tools and tips for working across cultures, leading virtual teams, running a matrix team, integrating an acquisition and developing the agility needed to innovate in such an environment. Personally I found it aimed more at larger mature organizations, but still worth a read … and we integrate many of the elements into our Working in Virtual teams training.

Work Rules!: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead (2 April 2015)

Laszlo Bock

Despite receiving 1,5000,000 job applicants every year, Google spends twice as much on recruiting as comparable companies. Why? Because top performers are usually doing very well where they are and not looking to move. So Google works to identify these performers and cultivate their interest. But while Google spends considerably more on recruitment than most companies it also spends considerably less on training, believing top performers need less training.

Laszlo Bock, Head of People Operations, joined Google when it had just 6000 “googlers”, and in this book he shares the different recruiting and talent management practices Google use and have used. Although sometimes bordering on self-congratulation, the book is very much-action oriented with each chapter outlining a clear to do – Become a founder, Don’t trust your gut, Why everyone hates performance management and what we decided to do about it, Pay unfairly.

Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts – Becoming the Person You Want to Be (19 May 2015)

Marshall Goldsmith and Mark Reiter

Have you ever wondered why you become so irritated around a specific colleague? Or questioned why your communication skills fall apart when presenting to a certain team? Goldsmith is an executive coach, and in this book he examines the triggers that can derail us – and how we can become the person we want to be and stay on track.

Perhaps common sense, but our reactions don’t occur in a vacuum. They are usually the result of triggers in our environment—whether this be specific person, situation or environment. .But how do we actually change ourselves? Knowing what to do doesn’t mean we actually do it, right? This book outlines how we can overcome the trigger points in our lives, and actually change to become the person we want to be, Drawing on executive coaching experience the authors use a simple “silver bullet” approach – daily self-monitoring, using active questions which focus on the our effort (and not the outcomes).

Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader (20 Jan 2015)

Herminia Ibarra

Do you wish you actually had the time and the space to be the manager and leader you know how to be? Introducing the idea of “outsights”, Herminia Ibarra, -an expert on professional leadership and development at INSEAD — shows how managers and executives at all levels can make an impact by making small but crucial changes in their jobs, their networks, and themselves. She argues that managers and leaders need to act first then to think – and to use the “outsights” resulting from the experience as a basis for meaningful individual growth and enabling of people and organizations. Joe Kaeser, CEO of Siemens AG. summed it up nicely as “transforming by doing”

The book is full of engaging self-assessments and plenty of practical advice so you can actually build a plan of action. It can be a bit heavy going but stick with it.

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How can you react to increasingly specific requests for training?

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training providerslargeHere’s an extract from a recent initial needs analysis I carried out with a client who had booked English training for a global change management project. This is just one example of how we’ve seen that training requests for communication and soft skills are becoming more and more specific. If you work in an L&D department, you’ve probably noticed this too.

Me: “Why are you interested in developing your team’s English skills?”

Client: “I need my team to be able to improve the way they use language to communicate the changes we need to make across the company. My team will need to spread the message globally using our intranet, internal social media platform, and through presentations and workshops. The way they communicate will need to be adapted according to the cultures e.g. Japan, Brazil, and the US. We need help establishing a style and communication campaign that will make everyone want to get behind the changes and drive them forward”.

This statement alone says there is a need for intercultural skills training with reference to over 40 countries where the changes will be made, creative ideas for marketing campaigns, how to write effectively for social media, how to achieve a global corporate writing style, presentations skills, workshop facilitation skills, and the list goes on. And no-one has even mentioned English yet. Basically, the client needs all of this, but in English – so she booked an English course straight out of a catalogue,  because couldn’t really find anything that fitted her needs exactly.

If you’re a participant in a standard Business English course, you may have noticed how the book you’re moving through, doesn’t always fit your needs. You’ve got really specific situations you need to use English for and there is no way they will be dealt with in an off-the-shelf course. If you’re a manager, you’ve probably spotted specific situations where you think your employees could benefit from some training support. You look at what the training department has on offer, but nothing seems to quite fit.

The starting point of effective training design should be the needs of the participants

This is precisely why we shy away from offering a catalogue. (Don’t get me wrong, we have a catalogue, because that’s what potential clients often request). But a training catalogue simply offers “standard” courses. Those courses are written in advance without detailed knowledge of the participant or their needs. They can of course be adapted to a certain extent. But shouldn’t the starting point of effective training design be the learners themselves? How can pre-designed courses really meet the training needs of the department or individual? Surely the ideal way is to listen to the client, dig deeper into their challenges, and look for solutions that will solve their problems?

The pros and cons of taking the individualized approach to training solutions

The pros

  • The training is completely tailored to your needs.
  • The results are immediately transferable to the workplace.
  • Improvement in performance on the job is evident.
  • The relevance ensures a happy learner.

The cons

  • You really need to be able to and want to listen.
  • You need training partners who are highly skilled in analysing needs based on limited information – everyone says they can do it, but it really is a skill, and it’s hard to find people who can do it well.
  • You need time. And time, when it comes to training design and materials development, can translate into money.
  • You need to evaluate the cost, often with the purchasing department. It can be hard to justify the cost of individualized learning to people who may not see the benefits of the immediate transfer to the workplace.
  • You need to move away from the simplicity of offering what is in the catalogue as a “take it, or leave it” solution.
  • You need to work with trainers who are adaptable, reactive, creative, and enjoy thinking on their feet.
  • It might be more difficult to sell to clients.
  • It might be difficult to measure concrete results e.g. with a test

OK, I admit, the cons list is longer, but how many of them are real problems? Solutions are easy to find to all of them. It might take a bit of effort and extra time before the training is organised. But, ultimately, an individualized training program will save you time and money in the workplace.

If you are interested to learn more about our needs analysis or individualized training design, please get in touch with me, or one of my colleagues. We’d be delighted to tell you more.

 

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Identify your training goals for 2016 with these 4 questions

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keytrainingqualityissuesIf you are a line manager, you probably need to think about training for the people who work for you. But, how do you decide what training is necessary? How do you set the training goals? And how do you know what will actually provide real, tangible results?

Start with the end in mind

The best way to think about training goals is to start with the end in mind. Don’t ask, “What training do I want?” Instead, ask yourself, “Why do I want training?”

When you start with the end in mind, you define what you want to achieve with the training. In other words, why have you decided to invest money in your people?

4 questions to ask when identifying your teams training goals

The first question really needs to be answered before you can start thinking about actual training. Once you have answered the first question, you can sit down with a training provider and let them help you to answer the other 3 questions.

  1. What result(s) do I want to see?
  2. What behaviour needs to change so that this result can be achieved?
  3. What skills, knowledge or attitudes do my people need to learn to change this behaviour?
  4. What sort of training is most appropriate for learning these skills, knowledge or attitudes?

A good training provider should be able to help you to define the behaviours which support the results you are looking for. They should be able to help you to decide what skills, knowledge and attitudes affect these behaviours. And, finally, they can suggest alternative ways for delivering training which will ensure that your people learn and put these behaviours into practice in the best possible way.

Don’t ask ‘what’, ask ‘why’

So remember, first you need to think why you want training. From here, you can decide what training will help you to reach your goals. For more tips on training goals and budgets, make sure to download our eBook “Making the most of your training investment” to help you get your money’s worth once you have identified your training goals.

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What comes first, the coffee or the meeting?

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Dealing with different expectations in meetings

mediumHave you ever needed to discuss terms and conditions with international partners? You come in ready to get down to business as quickly as possible, only to discover that the others first want to have some small talk or a coffee before discussing business? You might think to yourself, “Are we here to have a nice time or to do business?”

How we expect a meeting to run and how the meeting really progresses might be very different. We can all face the question, “When are we ready to get down to business?” So how do we find the correct balance between small talk and business? How should we identify what our partners (or participants) expect in advance?

General tips to consider before beginning the meeting

  • Find out about your audience in advance. What might be most important to them?
  • Consider following the cues of others in the meeting. How and when do they ask questions?
  • Think about potential differences in expectations and possible solutions in advance.
  • Know what you want to achieve during the meeting and how you wish to do so. Be aware that the audience might not have the same goals or process in mind.
  • Know both formal and informal phrases for dealing with different expectations.
  • Know when to use the phrases you’ve identified.
  • Notice possible mistakes (i.e. starting too soon, ignoring the other participants’ needs, etc.) and ask for feedback
  • Be aware of the importance of company culture.

Some questions to ask yourself before the meeting

  • What do the meeting participants expect?
  • When should I begin discussing business?
  • Is a formal or an informal tone better?
  • Does my company have any official information I can refer to?
  • Where can I go to find out more information about potential pitfalls?
  • What do I feel is a good balance which will accommodate everyone?
  • Would it be beneficial to receive extra training in this area?

Dealing with expectations in international meetings

When preparing for international meetings, we can take inspiration from the 7 dimensions of culture, as defined by Dr. Fons Trompenaar. They are:

  1. Universalism versus Particularism (Rules versus Relationships)
  2. Individualism versus Communitarianism (The Individual versus The Group)
  3. Specific versus Diffuse (How Far People Get Involved)
  4. Neutral versus Emotional (How People Express Emotions)
  5. Achievement versus Ascription (How People View Status)
  6. Sequential Time versus Synchronous Time (How People Manage Time)
  7. Internal Direction versus Outer Direction (How People Relate to Their Environment)

The area that best relates to our “getting down to business” scenario is the Specific-Diffuse dilemma. Here’s a quick overview* of this dimension:

Dimension Characteristics Strategies
Specific People keep work and personal lives separate. As a result, they believe that relationships don’t have much of an impact on work objectives, and, although good relationships are important, they believe that people can work together without having a good relationship.
  • Be direct and to the point.
  • Focus on people’s objectives before you focus on strengthening relationships.
  • Provide clear instructions, processes, and procedures.
  • Allow people to keep their work and home lives separate.
Diffuse People see an overlap between their work and personal life. They believe that good relationships are vital to meeting business objectives, and that their relationships with others will be the same, whether they are at work or meeting socially. People spend time outside work hours with colleagues and clients.
  • Focus on building a good relationship before you focus on business objectives.
  • Find out as much as you can about the people that you work with and the organizations that you do business with.
  • Be prepared to discuss business on social occasions, and to have personal discussions at work.
  • Try to avoid turning down invitations to social functions.

*Taken from: https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/seven-dimensions.htm

You could ask

Specific

  • Do functions and roles define relationships with others?
  • Is written communication more important than face-to-face or telephone?
  • Are closed questions more often used than open questions?

Diffuse

  • Do relationships with others define functions and roles?
  • Is the background story or information necessary for understanding specifics?
  • Is it valuable to invest time in getting to know each other directly and personally?

As the saying goes, being well prepared is half the battle

Although it might take a bit more time, considering the questions shown above should help you to be better prepared for meeting situations where individuals have different expectations. If you would like to learn more, have a look at our intercultural seminars or some more of our intercultural blog posts.

Working with Chinese colleagues and suppliers

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Yes is one of the most simple words to understand in the English language. Or is it?

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VT posterYes is generally perceived as a positive response, and when you’re asking for something in business it’s normally the answer you’re hoping for. My father thought this when he started an importing company in China. On his first few trips to the country he returned having already mentally calculated the profits he was set to make from the customized, high quality parts they had supposedly agreed to put together within weeks for him. The only problem was he didn’t understand the word ‘yes’ like the Chinese did.

Fast forward to now, years later, and he knows that ‘yes’ means something very different in China. When saying ‘yes’, Chinese colleagues only mean that they are listening to you, rather than that your request will be fulfilled or that you have been completely understood. Many problems stemmed from this simple misunderstanding and while now there is a good business relationship between my father and his suppliers, much time was wasted getting to such a point. Artist Yang Liu summed up many of the big differences between Chinese and German cultures in her artwork of the two against one another, from little things like attitudes to standing in a line to how the counterparts view their bosses.

As an inhouse business English trainer in Stuttgart I provide on-the-job support to my client, a department of global purchasers. During the last months , I have come across many participants having to learn the hard way how to get around countless misunderstandings. From our sessions on cultural competence in China, my purchasing participants have shared experiences and identified five common lessons which speed up the process of making a business relationship with a Chinese colleague prosperous.

The group comes first

Chinese colleagues are not interested in individual gains nearly as much as helping the community around them. It’s what the culture is built on and giving individual gains for doing work will not be as effective as creating a positive and motivating team.

The importance of the leader

The boss is highly valued in China, much more so than in Germany. When a problem is getting to a point where it doesn’t seem possible to solve it, get your superior involved a lot earlier than if you were dealing with a colleague from the same culture or at least bring up the possibility in discussions.

They don’t solve problems like you

Whether it’s struggling to say no when they can’t do something, or insisting that everything is ok when it’s not, the Chinese don’t like to directly discuss and deal with a problem or talk about their shortcomings. Learning some ways to politely ask what the problem is, or getting them to take you through their schedule and deciding for yourself if there is a problem, will give better results than simply asking ‘is everything ok?’.

They don’t challenge, they listen

Chinese colleagues will often treat meetings as more of a lecture than a chance to swap ideas and air their grievances, particularly if the boss is present. On a recent trip to China, a translator summed it up well for me in her comparison of our school systems. “For us, we are told what to know and we don’t question it. For you, discussion is encouraged and you are taught to challenge.” Push them to express themselves and know that they’re not entirely comfortable doing it.

They value pleasantries

The Germans are known for seeing small talk as inefficient, but if you want a Chinese colleague to do you a favour you would be a lot better off adding some polite phrasing and extra niceties. It makes them feel as if the workplace is more harmonious and while being direct is more efficient, when they give excuses rather than results such efficiency is out the window.

Phrases for dealing with the Chinese culture

Direct English

English that is better for Chinese dealings
I think you did this wrong. Perhaps next time we could try it like this instead?
You need to do this by Wednesday. If you could do this by next Wednesday, the team can achieve their results.
I will have to get the boss involved if you don’t agree to a solution. Is this a problem that we can solve ourselves or do you think our superiors should give us assistance?
Do you understand? Could you summarise for me what you need to do (to make sure we’re on the same page)?
Are there any problems with this? Please let me know if there are any ways that you can do this more efficiently, because that would really help the team.
Did you get everything finished today? What did you finish today?

Do you want to learn more about the Chinese culture?

If you have any tips or comments on dealing with the Chinese, I’d love to hear them (and so would my participants). Please leave your comments below.

Communicating across cultures – What’s in a name?

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Communicating across cultures begins with the understanding that one size does not fit all

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mediumDifferences in cultures, as we see so often, can lead to a host of great and small misunderstandings. Take something as simple as a name. It is entirely common in some German companies to use Mr. or Mrs, followed by the surname, even after years of working together. This custom can confuse a visitor from a different culture to the point that negotiations and/or meetings are less successful than they could have been – if only one of the parties had addressed the elephant in the room: How do we address each other?

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose. By any other name would smell as sweet.”

What is perfectly acceptable in one culture may be perceived as too informal or unprofessional in another and that is also for true for the use of someone’s name. Business, conducted by Germans and non-Germans together can get complicated. Can you use first names in meetings? When? How do you know if it’s acceptable? If you ever find yourself in such a situation, here’s what you can do…

Don’t panic

When you do business in Germany, assume that ‘Mr..’ and ‘Mrs..’ is the norm. This may throw you, but don’t take this formality as a reflection on you or your business relationship. You should know that it’s very likely “Herr Jung” and “Frau Groß” use last names when they speak to each other, too. The silver lining is that it’s quite a leap forward in the business relationship if someone invites you to use his/her first name.

Take the initiative

Let people know how you would like to be addressed before that elephant shows its long-nosed face. When introducing yourself, give your full name first “Good morning, my name is Bette Ernst.”, then add a simple “Please, call me Bette.” This may seem too friendly, but it certainly establishes one of the most important things you may want them to know: you see them as an ally, a partner, and you want to work with them.

At this point the other person has two options:

  • They can take you up on your offer: “That’s very kind, Bette.” And they will probably follow up with an offer for you to call them by their first name: “And, please call me Al.
  • They can politely decline: “Thank you, but we prefer using surnames in this company” or “Thank you. But I think I’d feel better with Mrs. Ernst’.” Then you must keep using their surname, as well. Again, this is not a reflection on you. Some people just prefer to wait until they know someone well – beyond a first meeting – before they start using first names.

Better be safe than sorry

“When I speak to my boss in the office, in a regular conversation, I can use his first name. But in a meeting or in front of the other colleagues…no way!” That was what an Executive Assistant told me when I asked her if she referred to her boss by his first or last name. Always err on the side of safety. Authority and formality matter in a lot of cultures. If you might embarrass the person or call her stature or authority into question by using the first name, don’t do it. If you’re not sure, don’t do it. Again, if they offer to allow you to use their first name, it’s a big step. Well done!

Consider the big ‘but…’

If you expect the meeting to be especially contentious, if you have to negotiate with someone particularly difficult, if the meeting will involve a significant amount of disagreement, or if the discussion involves unpleasant topics, it’s probably better that you stick to more formal language.

Although offering to let others call you by your first name is a great way to immediately ‘warm up the room,’ I think it’s almost never a good idea to ask someone if you can use their first name. “May I call you Peter?” sounds polite enough, but it can put people on the defensive. They may feel you have “crossed a line” merely by asking. You can also suggest that everyone in the meeting use first names, but that’s a minefield you’d do well to avoid.

International business etiquette

Besides the large amount of cultural differences, there are also a large number of commonalities when it comes to doing business internationally. Here are two links:

 

 

 

 

Doing business successfully in Germany – from a German perspective

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I recently asked my German IT participants in a multinational company to do a bit of brainstorming about their ideas for what it takes to be successful when doing business with Germans. Here are some of the ideas they found important. Of course the list is by no means exhaustive. While researching this topic, my participants and I found one website in particular to be very helpful You can find more useful cultural information about Germany and other European countries on this site.

Recognize that different people have different language abilities and try to be accommodating

Just because someone can create beautifully formed sentences or can speak very rapidly doesn’t mean that these skills are also appreciated by others learning the language. Although English is taught in schools, not everyone has the same skills. One’s expectations and the reality might not match up. Be aware of this and be able to adjust accordingly. It will improve business relationships immensely.

Stating issues or asking questions initially is often appreciated in email form first

Germans sometimes feel self-conscious about their language skills and tend to downplay their real abilities. However, receiving initial information in written form is often appreciated due to understanding issues like accents, rate of speed, potentially unfamiliar vocabulary, etc. After the first email has been sent, however, it is sometimes useful to clarify unclear points with a telephone call.

Don’t underestimate the value of clear, direct communication

Germans like clarity and security. This can be seen in the preferred communication style too. Unlike some cultures where “No” is never stated even if that is what is meant, this isn’t the case in Germany. It is highly respected when you are able to give clear, concise answers to questions. If you mean “No” then say “No” and vice versa. Don’t be surprised if conversations are very direct or even blunt. This is considered normal and valuable.

Know at least a little bit about potentially sensitive topics

Although Germans usually highly regard directness, there are certain topics that you should avoid being very direct about. These include asking about salaries, sharing too much personal information or expecting to be asked out for drinks after a meeting, just to name a few.

Time is very important in Germany

Meetings generally start on time, efficiency is highly valued, and people tend to try to restrict the amount of work they do during the evening hours. While there are exceptions of course, the statements above are often the norm. Although many things have been standardized in Germany, shop opening hours do not necessarily fall into this category. Be aware that shops will not be open later than listed (and might not even let you in 10 minutes before closing time), that lunch times vary, as do opening hours in general. This is true for shops and offices alike.

The role of a meeting might be different than expected

In many English-speaking countries, meetings are places for open discussion and sharing of opinions. This often isn’t the case in Germany. Depending on the participants (i.e. managerial positions, hierarchy etc.), meetings can be a method used to inform others of decisions or deadlines, to communicate roles and responsibilities or to give status updates. When participants are part of a working group at the same hierarchical level, there is often more discussion among members. The tone is usually formal and you are expected to be prepared and only contribute when asked to do so.

More cultural insights

Do you work with other nationalities? Which tips would you add to our list? We’d like to hear from you!

If you are interested to read more about working with different cultures, here are a few suggestions:

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How do your training skills compare to Fred Flintstone and his car?

Wouldn’t it be easier just to walk, than to walk and carry a car made of boulders?

As a training organization we train our clients as you would expect, but we also develop our trainers. Our trainers are observed regularly in the training room for two reasons. Reason one is quality management: Does the training meet client expectations? Reason two is professional (trainer) development: How can the trainer improve their training skills? From time to time, I get puzzled by how hard some trainers make their own lives. I was discussing this recently with a colleague, and she compared the situation to Fred Flintstone and his car. Do you remember that car? The one which he gets into, lifts up, and walks with? The car is a tool that is supposed to make his life easier. But the way he uses it can surely only make life harder.

What, you might be asking, has this analogy got to do with training? It’s a bit of a stretch but just like Fred, some trainers stop thinking logically about which way of doing something would be the most effective. They end up making some basic training errors as a result. Let’s look at five common training mistakes and some ideas for what you can do about them so you can a) make your training more effective for your participants, and b) easier for you.

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1. Confusing training with presenting

As a trainer I’ve often worked with participants who had to train people in something specific. In preparation they wanted to check their powerpoint slides with me. We reviewed the English on the slides, and that was it. This was a shame. Training is not running through a bunch of slides. Don’t you tend to switch off after 5-10 minutes of slides filled with text while the presenter talks you through them? I certainly do.

Effective training is interactive and experiential. Get the participants to talk about their experiences and come to conclusions themselves or with the help of colleagues. This means standing back, setting up tasks which make them talk, facilitating these activities, and giving feedback. Allow participants to learn from each other.

2. Talking too much

This is closely related to the first point. Successful training does not involve a trainer standing at the front of the room lecturing the participants. In a one hour training session, what percentage of time do you think the trainer should be talking for? As a general rule: the less the trainer talks and the more the participants are doing something, the better. That makes life easier for the trainer too.

Some trainers feel that if they are not talking, they are not in control, and that the participants will feel they can’t manage the training room. This is absolutely not the case. Aim to talk less – a lot less. If you’re not sure how much you talk, then film yourself, and watch it later. This can be a really valuable, eye-opening exercise.

3. Giving unclear instructions (and failing to check they’ve been understood)

I’ve been teaching and training for around 20 years, mostly with adults. A while ago in Spain I had to teach 6 year olds. Before this I hadn’t thought too much about how I gave instructions. I did some training before taking these kids on. One of the things that was stressed to me there was the importance of carefully planned out instructions. I started planning what I was going to say, and more importantly how I was going to check that everyone had understood what I needed them to do. This was a bit of work at first, but it was worth it in the end. Have you ever tried to get thirty kids into four groups by giving them the letters A, B, C, D?

Think your instructions out very carefully and make sure you are concise. Find a way of checking that people have understood what they have to do – this can be as simple as asking one person to repeat it back. This may sound silly, but it will save a lot of time and help clear up any problems in your instructions. After all, what is clear to you, may really not be clear to others, especially in an international audience.

4. Keeping things predictable

Variety is the name of the game. If everything is predictable and routine, it is boring. If it’s boring, no learning is going to be taking place.

How can you shake things up? Make sure you vary what you do. Look for variety in pace, activity types, groups, materials, and feedback methods. People learn in different ways, so try to cater to different learning styles.

5. Failing to explain aims and transferability

Sometimes when I am observing a class – fortunately not too often -, I have little idea what the trainer is trying to do and why he or she is trying to do it. If I don’t know why, then I doubt very much that the participants do. If you were taking time out of your day for training, wouldn’t you want to know why you were there and what you were going to get out of it? Luckily this problem is easily remedied.

  1. Share your aims – write them up at the start of the session and cross them off as they are achieved.
  2. Explain why you want people to do things. Generally most of us are prepared to do things if we understand the rationale behind them. All you need to do is say for example “We’re now going to ….. so that…..”

So, think about it. Can you make yourself a little less like Fred Flintstone and his car? What mistakes have you made when training? What have you learnt from these mistakes? Why not share your experience with us?

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Not everyone’s a natural at small talk

small talk english

“By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin

Do you prepare for small talk?

Not only natural small talkers are good at small talk. How much time do you spend preparing for a presentation? Let’s assume you don’t make those up as you go, why should it be different with small talk? Being a confident small talker means you need to be prepared and give some thought to what you can ask and say.

Knowing what to ask

When you are back in France visiting your colleagues at the local plant, recall prior conversations you had. What did you talk about in the past? Holidays, children, work, hobbies? Remembering specifics is great but not necessary. Perhaps you remember that your colleague told you they were going on holiday, but you forgot when and where. Ask something like, “The last time I saw you, you mentioned you were going on holiday. How was it?”





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Knowing what to say

When you know you will be put in situation where you must make small talk, for example lunch with a client or visiting a project site, think about what contributions you can make. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What interesting books or movies have I read or seen recently?
  • What are my upcoming holiday or weekend plans?
  • What interesting places have I traveled to or visited recently?
  • What new projects am I excited about at work?
  • What new challenges am I facing at work?
  • What are my current hobbies?

Answering these questions to yourself will help prepare you with topics of conversation to share in small talk that you feel are safe. Try to have three or four experiences or contributions in mind before entering a small talk situation.

Remember what small talk is

“Every great romance and each big business deal begins with small talk. The key to successful small talk is learning how to connect with others, not just communicate with them.” Bernardo J. Carducci

It’s great to ask your small talk partner questions about themselves- it shows sincere interest. However, if you only ask questions and never share anything about yourself, it will sound like a job interview at best or an interrogation at worst. Try to strike a balance between listening and speaking.

For more small talk, here’s one I wrote earlier: Open up your small talk

Doing business with Italians

target training

I’m half Italian, half German and I grew up in Germany. I thought I understood both sides of my heritage, but I didn’t really discover how different these two cultures could be until my work as a sales manager took me to Italy. In fact, it took me a year of working in Italy, building a sales department for a German energy supplier, before I began to fully appreciate how to do business in Italy. As a guest author for Target Training, I want to share some of the lessons I learnt.

What the Italians love and admire

Italians love their language, their country, good life, good food, beauty and fashion. They admire order and punctuality but rarely act in this way. The more south you go the more this is true. (In fact Italians refer to two Italys: the one north and the one south of Rome. Rome itself being part of the southern half). Do not be surprised if your Italian business partner arrives half an hour late to a meeting. He may excuse himself but probably will not. It is also fairly normal to answer the (mobile) phone in the middle of a meeting.

How they work

Business is largely based on personal relationships. A task may take a month or more when carried out for an unknown client. The same task might be completed in two days if a favoured client asks for the same thing. This results in an environment of reciprocal obligations.

The worst thing that can happen to an Italian is: fare una brutta figura (making a bad figure, that is giving a bad impression). It is important not to lay blame on any person in public, e. g. in a meeting unless you really want to “punish” that person. If you want to lay blame, you may be better off doing so in a one to one talk.

Time for meetings = time for foodmedium

Business meetings will probably take place shortly before, after, or even during meal times. Italians prefer to make contracts between people, not between companies. Eating together is one of the best ways of connecting to other people. Building trustworthy relationships is crucial to Italians. You probably will not get down to business until you’ve been out to eat with the decision makers a couple of times. Dinner tends to be the most important meal of the day.

Do you want to be a guest author on our blog?

For our Intercultural series, Andy Fluck has written a post about doing business with Italians. We hope you find it as interesting as we do. If you want to contribute as a guest author, we’re always looking for more cultural insights. If you have spent a lot of time doing business with another culture, or if you have other cultural business experiences you want to share: send us an email

Are you looking for cultural insights?

Read the other articles in our Intercultural series:

The language

If you are interested in doing long-term business with Italians, you should learn Italian. The efforts you put in to learning the language will pay off in your business relationships. Many Italians speak good English, but they do not like it. If they have the choice between an Italian and an English speaking business partner, they are prone to choose the Italian speaking one.

About the author af

Andy Fluck, Handwerk des Verkaufens

Kompetenz – Methode – Persönlichkeit

Ich fülle die Auftragsbücher meiner Kunden, in dem ich Sie in Ihrer Kommunikation in Verkauf, Führung und in Ihrer Persönlichkeitsentwicklung unterstütze. Sprechen Sie mich gerne an.

 

 

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Why small talk is never a waste of time in America

target training

I used to work for a large German logistics company as an in-house Business English trainer. Every morning I walked into the building and I would greet the security guard. Many of my German colleagues did this too. Not everyone learned his name though. I began to exchange daily pleasantries, talk about the weather, the weekends and would ask about his holiday when he returned back to work. Some of my German colleagues thought this behaviour was bizarre. They were surprised when I invited him to my office to share a piece of my birthday cake.

Small talk is never ‘small’

From my side I never understood why this was seen as unusual. To me, I was fostering a relationship that would make my working life easier. I know that might sound a little “mercenary” but my intentions were good. When I would occasionally forget my company identification card at home, the security guard never gave me a hard time or made me fill out the paperwork to obtain a temporary day pass (and this, of course, was not the case for other colleagues). As an American, small talk is never ‘small.’ In fact it plays quite a big role in building business relationships. It’s important, meaningful and significant.

Why is small talk so difficult?

I know that many of my clients find making small talk in English one of the most difficult things to do. My participants have told me that they are worried about saying the wrong thing, or that they don’t have the right words. I’m learning German myself, and I fully understand these problems.

However, I’ve also had German colleagues tell me that they feel small talk is unnecessary. Some have even told me it’s a waste of time – there’s time for fun when the work is done. Culturally, I find it harder to share these views.

Americans use small talk as a business tool

Many Americans approach small talk as an invaluable use of time because it can build and create new contacts and develop stronger relationships. We often don’t realize how many decisions we make based on gut feeling. And this is why small talk is so critical in America. The small talk before the job interview, at the corporate event or in the elevator with the boss can be very powerful at making a memorable impression. The person might not remember what you said but they will remember the impression you made – how you made them feel.

Of course small talk is not the sole determiner of success in American business. You must also perform the duties of your job with high quality. However, interpersonal relationships are significant in a work culture that does not have the legal safeguards often found in Germany.

3 things to keep in mind when developing your small talk skills

 “There is no such thing as a worthless conversation, provided you know what to listen for. And questions are the breath of life for a conversation.”— James Nathan Miller

The goal of small talk is not to make an overnight connection

Think of small talk as planting a seed in the garden. Making small talk once is not enough. You need to cultivate the relationship over time.

Listen and listen more

A brilliant way to strengthen a new relationship is to truly listen to the person and learn what is important to them. Once you understand what makes them tick, small talk will be much easier. Open questions are key.

It’s not all about what you can do for me

Don’t treat small talk as a one-way street. If you’re only thinking about what you can gain from the relationship, the small talk will come across as insincere and unauthentic. Small talk is not ‘how is this person going to help me?’ Small talk is about nurturing a genuine business relationship. So consider, ‘what can I offer’ or ‘how can I help?’ Additionally, the relationship will feel more personally fulfilling when you are able to give more than you take.

If you want to know more…

Then these links might be of interest to you:

And if you have another minute, let us know what problems you face when trying to make small talk in English.