Obama, Reid, and Nonverbal Communication

Posted on January 12, 2010. Filed under: cross cultural communication, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , |

Harry Reid was only stating the obvious—-what you look like and what you sound like have a huge impact on your audience.

93% of communication is nonverbal. The actual words account for only 7% of communication.

How closely your nonverbal style matches someone else’s will affect how well the two of you can communicate. The closer the styles are, the better the communication. Styles that are different are more likely to result in prejudice, conflict, and communication breakdown.

What Reid was saying, basically, is that a White American audience will be receptive to Obama’s appearance (light skinned), and vocal qualities (“no Negro dialect”). People, rightly or wrongly, have expectations and preferences for nonverbal communication. It’s the “Oh, he’s like me” moment that lowers communication barriers.

Biases and prejudice are also grounded in nonverbal communication and body language. People make judgments, both positive and negative, about other cultures’ body language and tone, which then impacts communication.

People who interact with diverse cultures will have greater awareness of different nonverbal communication styles. Those who understand and can use a variety of these styles will have a larger skill set to draw on and greater chance at communication success.

Nonverbal communication includes:

  • facial expression
  • body posture
  • touching
  • movement
  • physical distance
  • hand gestures
  • eye contact
  • grooming/dress
  • Tone and vocal qualities (dialect)

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You think we gossip, we think you’re shallow

Posted on July 21, 2009. Filed under: cross cultural communication, Uncategorized, women | Tags: , , , |

It only took me about 47 years, but I no longer get annoyed at the way men communicate, and I no longer try to get them to change. Both being annoyed and hoping  others will change are a total waste of time and energy.  Now when I see the stark differences in communication styles, I just say, wow, look at that.

GENERALITIES (please don’t write me that these are generalities. I know. That’s why I’ve included the header, GENERALITIES):

(straight) Men tend to use communication to:

  • Impart knowledge
  • Define status
  • Present solutions

Women tend to communicate to:

  • build relationships
  • Seek consensus
  • maintain harmony

Women also process out loud, talking things through, whereas men prefer to process internally, and talk when they have a solution.

I fall somewhere between these two extremes–I like to build relationships, but frequently like to cut to the chase and focus on solutions without all the touchy feely lets-talk-it-out stuff. I’ve been told more than once that my communication style is masculine.

Still, I am sometimes shocked at the shallowness of men’s conversations. (sports talk as communication is another posting). Their conversation often shows no interest in the details, vivid descriptions, and microscopic analysis of events that define women’s conversation.

Case in point:

My best friend (female) called me with some “holy crap! I can’t believe it! You have got to be kidding me!!” kind of news yesterday. We went over every aspect of this astounding news in gory detail, revisiting all the juicy parts 2 or 3 times. We spent a good 1/2 hour on the topic.

My husband (male) also told me some “holy crap! I can’t believe it! You have got to be kidding me!!” kind of news yesterday. When I asked for more detail,  his response was, ” I don’t know. I didn’t ask, and he wasn’t volunteering any more info.” And he was quite comfortable leaving it there.

Guys–PLEASE, explain to me: HOW  in the world do you not ask for more info? details? images? insights? analysis? Aren’t you curious? Aren’t you dying to know???

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When my time isn’t your time

Posted on April 13, 2009. Filed under: business, cross cultural conflict, cross cultural miscommunication, hispanic culture, time | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Time changes everything. Or how you view time changes everything.  Differences in cultural concepts of time are ALWAYS brought up by a frustrated manager or employee during cross cultural training sessions. I am amazed at how little attention is paid to understanding the concept of time in the workplace, given its profound impact on productivity, employee and customer relations, and worker satisfaction.

Ideas about time range widely:

  • Time is a scare resource.  Manage it carefully!
  • Time is abundant.  Relax!
  • Time is best spent concentrating on one activity, conversation, project, etc., at a time
  • Time is best spent concentrate simultaneously on multiple activities, conversations, projects, etc., at a time.
  • Use time to learn from the past.  The present is essentially a continuation or a repetition of past occurrences.
  • Use time to focus on “here and now” and short-term benefits.
  • Use time to plan for long-term benefits.  Promote a far-reaching vision.

These differences can wreak havoc on the workplace.

I worked with one American company that was having problems with time management of their plant in Mexico, which supplied the raw materials for their factory in the US. “They always miss deadlines, and never at least give us the heads up that they may be late!” “They work so slowly!” “It’s impossible to coordinate with them, because they just don’t stick to our schedule!”

When I asked how they were presently dealing with the situation, the manager said they had sent a team down to Mexico to train the employees on what was expected and managing their time better.

The company did not leave anyone American onsite to oversee production schedules. The problem returned as soon as we left, was their response. Well of course everything went back to Mexican style! Why wouldn’t it? Could you imagine a person from a different culture coming into your workplace and telling you to behave in a manner completely different from your culture? How long would you keep that up, especially if no one from the target culture was on site? Wouldn’t you and your coworkers slip back into your natural way of acting and communicating?

Helping employees understand cultural differences requires constant communication. There is no instant solution. Working successfully across cultures takes time.

Read here about ways to get employees on the same page about time expectations.

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Language instruction as a diversity initiative

Posted on January 24, 2009. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

Are you an expat working in the US? If so, I’d like to know about the language and cultural challenges you face in the workplace. You can post a reponse here, or email lsupraner@callearning.com


Any corporate diversity/inclusion initiative must include helping expats assimilate into the workforce. Diversity and inclusion are not just about leveraging difference, but about helping outsiders assimilate to the group.

Imagine for a moment that you are working in a foreign country and conducting business in a foreign language. Unless you have native-like fluency, you probably cannot express yourself as fully and profoundly as you would like to, and have to adjust your thoughts for what you’re capable of saying. You may be embarrassed or shy to speak up because of your limited language skills. You have a great depth of knowledge in your area of expertise, but don’t have the vocabulary to express it. Although you are influential in your native language, you have trouble leading in the foreign language in which you work.

I’m working on an article on the language and cultural challenges facing expat employees in the US. Almost 16% of the US workforce is foreign-born. 50% of the this group are Hispanic and 22% are Asians. Both groups tend to be in certain occupations. In some industries, expats can make up a signification percentage of a company’s human capital.

Among foreign-born workers, 2 tiers exist: Latinos with low education and low skills, and educated professionals from Asia. Both groups have workplace communication problems, but the problems are different for each group. For Hispanic workers in construction, manufacturing and services, workplace language issues may include following procedures, safety and reducing errors. For Asians in professional jobs, communication problems could include participating in meetings, delivering presentations, and business writing. Both groups will face problems in adjusting to American workplace culture.

Any training program must be tied to business objectives. Assuring your workforce has language fluency is tied to business objectives in that it:
• Reduces time to market through greater productivity
• Leads to fewer error and miscommunications
• Increases safety
• Taps into and maximizing talent

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