If you have ever had that privilege, you know what a rarity it is for most Americans. As I led a three-day crisis management and business continuity workshop last week for international development professionals from more than a dozen countries, I was reminded just how important (and challenging) communicating across cultural boundaries can be. We were dealing with life and death scenarios where what you say and what you do have deep implications on the safety and security of those around you. Communicating effectively was more important than ever.
Here are five lessons I’ve learned over the years by being the only American in the room:
- Listening is more important than talking. You don’t learn by talking; you learn by listening. Spend time listening to those around you who have different perspectives, come from different cultures or simply think differently than you do.
- Asking questions is critical. Be curious about those who are not like you. They will surprise you. As a result, you’ll be able to speak from a perspective that invites people to ask you questions of you. Genuine curiosity has resolved many diplomatic conflicts over the years.
- Show some initiative. Learn about your audience’s history, their culture(s) and their local news. Find out what matters most to them.
- Capitalize on the human experiences that tie you together. Every single one of us is a son or daughter. Most of us have had some sort of schooling. Many adults have experienced the joy or pain of being a parent. Find common human experiences and build on them to make connections with your audience.
- Don’t assume. Own your own experience and knowledge, but be humble as you tell others about it. Don’t assume they’ve has the same experience.
Last but not least, remember that a humble smile goes a very long way in establishing a relationship across cultures.
The staff at ND&P have traveled to and worked in more than 60 countries around the globe. We’re adept at being the only American in the room. How can we help you increase your presence abroad.