Ask the Specialist: Why don’t the British just say what they mean?

 
QUIT BEATING AROUND THE BUSH AND SAY WHAT’S ON YOUR MIND

If you have ever found yourself in the United Kingdom trying to understand your British colleagues who gave you a strange answer or you cannot put your finger on what was going on, then this article is for you.

Our consultant Wojciech Kolodziejczak explains:

“Yes, it was too much!!! I remember saying that to my British manager a couple of years ago as he talked about lots of unimportant things and did not want to tell me directly what (is) was the problem.”

The origin of the phrase 
‘Beating about the bush or the American version: Beating around the bush’ goes back to medieval age when it was customary to beat the bushes during the bird hunts so that the birds were so frightened by the noise that they flew up into the air and therefore could be seen and captured by the huntsmen. Today the idiom has moved away from its original meaning of being a prelude to the main event, to its current meaning of ‘to evade’, ‘to avoid’ or ‘to speak in a roundabout way’.

High context
The British are quite indirect communicators; they deeply avoid creating conflicts. Therefore you should not take everything British say literally, as the combination of politeness, double meanings and understatements can make it seem like they are saying the opposite of what they are actually thinking. 

A few examples:

  • That’s one way of putting it’ can be a polite way of saying ‘This idea is ridiculous’
  • ‘I only have a few minor comments’ could be a respectful way of communicating ‘Please rewrite completely’, whereas you understood it as ‘He has found a few typos’.

The British culture is a high context culture, therefore words are not enough. You will have to read between the lines to understand what they really mean. You have to know the background and context to understand the message and interpret tone, expression and non-verbal communication.

When asked, ‘How are you?’ the only appropriate answer is along the lines of, ‘Fine, thanks.  You should not go into detail about any problems you go through. When British friend greets you with, ‘Hi – are you all right? ‘ you can answer with, ‘Yes, thank you’, or simply say, ‘Y’all right?’ back, as it really just means hello.

More helpful tips:


About the author: Wojciech Kolodziejczak
Wojciech’s mission is to promote cross-cultural networking and to educate professionals that building strong business relations can help them grow their careers, businesses and personal lives.

He is a business trainer specialised in cross-cultural communication, networking, and negotiation skills for British, Polish, and other international businesses. He is also a visiting lecturer on cross-cultural networking skills for the Federation of Small Businesses, London Metropolitan University and other organisations.

More info about Wojciech: www.lifenetworker.com

The challenges of international management

Managing a virtual team

Does your team work all over the world and in different time zones? For example, the technicians are located in India, the project leaders in Germany, France and the US, and the manager, i.e. you, in the Netherlands. If this is the case, you are possibly working together daily, but have never all met in person.  

Different backgrounds and languages within a team may lead to misunderstandings – maybe even serious ones. To create a sense of solidarity within an international team is challenging, but also key to achieving a successful  collaboration. So, how to go about it?

The advantages
Quite often it is only the disadvantages of long-distance management that are discussed, but if we are prepared to change management methods, there are undoubtedly advantages:

  • Working internationally stimulates flexibility and increases availability. If the work is divided among people in different time zones, a project can be worked on 24/7.
  • Working virtually is a good cost-saving method, particularly where travel expenses are concerned.
  • If bridging cultural differences is successful, working with different cultures is both motivating and enriching. It offers the opportunity to share best practices, to discover new working methods, and to expand personal insights.

The challenges
Managing a virtual team is a challenge. Communication is more difficult because of the different languages involved and the lack of personal contact and non-verbal communication. This leads to a more extended and less noticeable risk of misunderstandings than would be the case in traditional teams and may result in conflict.

Because of the distance it may be hard to create a sincere team spirit with reciprocal support, friendships and connections. Team members may feel isolated or frustrated. Therefore it is of the utmost importance that they are independent and able to motivate themselves.

Four tips and keys to success

It should always be kept in mind that managing a team from afar is harder than managing a traditional team. Also remember that, although new principles have been put in place, old habits die hard. Motivating people to achieve a communal goal and building trust are therefore of crucial importance. But how to do this?

  1. Adjusting management style
    In some cultures people expect their managers to have direct control, which is impossible in international management. In the Netherlands and Scandinavia, for example, the management role is one of facilitator. This working method is not suitable for virtual teams either and may lead to misunderstanding and incorrect interpretation.
    The ideal situation consists of the right balance between these two management styles , where a manager takes the lead and inspires trust, but also trusts others to delegate to co-workers.
  2. Giving attention to communication style
    In order to manage international teams effectively, an explicit communication style is what is required. The manager should explain everything clearly and in detail. It is key that everyone understands what the common goals are, what tasks need to be executed, who does what, who needs to be informed, by whom, how often, and how.
    To avoid confusion the manager is therefore obliged to give perfectly straightforward instructions.
  3. Guiding cultural differences
    When dealing with a multicultural virtual team, most likely another issue will surface: notions about time, hierarchy, dealing with conflict, communication, etc., may vary culturally.
    When a German project leader sets his or her Indian team members a deadline for software delivery, he or she should be aware of all cultural factors that may put meeting the deadline at risk. Something that works well in one culture could be seen as inappropriate in another. As these differences may lead to misunderstanding and irritation, it is important to acquire knowledge about the team members’ cultures and come to mutual agreement on working methods. After all, the objective is to execute the project collaboratively and to create among team members a kind of common culture based on synergy and contribution.
    Taking into account cultural differences, new rules should be drawn up regarding: Decision making, Communication style and method, Deadline management, Feedback.
    The possible consequences of non-compliance with these rules should also be clearly stated. As working interculturally does not leave any room for doubts, it has to be obvious who has which role. With everyone aware of the rules,  it is up to the manager to check if they are actually followed.
  4. Organizing virtual meetings
    Even if everything seems to be progressing nicely, having regular video conferences is essential to team building. The manager should focus on what is going well and aim for a positive team spirit. Group achievements could and should be celebrated. These virtual meetings should offer opportunities to share experiences and discuss problems. They could also simply serve as a possibility to have a chat, just as traditional team members have their water cooler conversations. All this will be in aid of creating a group sense and providing a stable working relationship. When team member know each other better, even though they are unable to meet in person, it will result in more trust, a true team spirit, and greater success.

About the author – Marietta Lenz 
Since 1990, Marietta has lived and worked in several countries. Her home is now in the Netherlands, but she also frequently works in Germany, Belgium and other European countries.

After graduating she started her professional career as a trainer of Russian, business German, and cultural awareness. In the meantime she has become a well-respected and experienced consultant, specialized in intercultural management, leadership and personal development.

Ask the specialist: Why don’t the British just say what they mean?

Quit beating around the bush and say what’s on your mind

If you have ever found yourself in the United Kingdom trying to understand your British colleagues who gave you a strange answer or you cannot put your finger on what was going on, then this article is for you.

Our consultant Wojciech Kolodziejczak explains:

“Yes, it was too much!!! I remember saying that to my British manager a couple of years ago as he talked about lots of unimportant things and did not want to tell me directly what (is) was the problem.”

The origin of the phrase
‘Beating about the bush or the American version: Beating around the bush’ goes back to medieval age when it was customary to beat the bushes during the bird hunts so that the birds were so frightened by the noise that they flew up into the air and therefore could be seen and captured by the huntsmen. Today the idiom has moved away from its original meaning of being a prelude to the main event, to its current meaning of ‘to evade’, ‘to avoid’ or ‘to speak in a roundabout way’.

High context
The British are quite indirect communicators; they deeply avoid creating conflicts. Therefore you should not take everything British say literally, as the combination of politeness, double meanings and understatements can make it seem like they are saying the opposite of what they are actually thinking. 

A few examples:

  • That’s one way of putting it’ can be a polite way of saying ‘This idea is ridiculous’
  • ‘I only have a few minor comments’ could be a respectful way of communicating ‘Please rewrite completely’, whereas you understood it as ‘He has found a few typos’.

The British culture is a high context culture, therefore words are not enough. You will have to read between the lines to understand what they really mean. You have to know the background and context to understand the message and interpret tone, expression and non-verbal communication.

When asked, ‘How are you?’ the only appropriate answer is along the lines of, ‘Fine, thanks.  You should not go into detail about any problems you go through. When British friend greets you with, ‘Hi – are you all right? ‘ you can answer with, ‘Yes, thank you’, or simply say, ‘Y’all right?’ back, as it really just means hello.

More helpful tips:


About the author: Wojciech Kolodziejczak
Wojciech’s mission is to promote cross-cultural networking and to educate professionals that building strong business relations can help them grow their careers, businesses and personal lives.

He is a business trainer specialised in cross-cultural communication, networking, and negotiation skills for British, Polish, and other international businesses. He is also a visiting lecturer on cross-cultural networking skills for the Federation of Small Businesses, London Metropolitan University and other organisations.

More info about Wojciech: www.lifenetworker.com

Ask the specialist: Does small talk make sense?

Small Talk or Big Talk

The British are world champions in small talk. One of our training participant asked us: ‘What is the purpose of small talk? To me it sounds like a waste of time’

Hence the question: Does small talk make sense at all? 

Our consultant Wojciech Kolodziejczak explains: 

The small talk is actually a very powerful tool and it has a goal of breaking the ice and bringing people together. It is indispensable at every contact – both during the first meeting and during subsequent meetings (even during negotiations!). 

  1. It is a tool used to break the ice, loosen up the situation and find things we have in common. Once you have established at least one common interest you can focus on that for a while to get to know the person better.
  2. Helps to relax – Meeting people at business meetings can be very stressful and small talk helps you and the other person to relax.
  3. People buy people, not their products, and small talk is a great opportunity to check who we are dealing with and whether there is any “synergy” and potential to build a good and lasting relationship.
  4. It makes it easier to stay away from emotional subjects like politics, religion and other topics that could “build a wall” between people.
  5. Gather facts – In a very non-intrusive way you can gather interesting facts ( like hobbies and interests etc. ) about the other person. People appreciate when you listen and show interest in them.
  6. People feel more comfortable if their views and beliefs are not being questioned or evaluated.
  7. Know – Like – Trust – With small talk you are not trying to “sell them anything” which is a great way of starting “KNOW-LIKE-TRUST” process. It sounds like we should call it: BIG TALK

A great example is Queen Elizabeth, who often asks her guests during the audience:

  • Queen Elizabeth: “Have you come from far?”
  • The Guest: “Your Majesty, I have travelled from Manchester”
  • Queen Elizabeth: “I really enjoyed my last trip to Manchester several years ago…”

The principle is simple – she speaks about things, places known to the guest. She talks about the place or asks questions about it. Then, she listens to the answers and follow up on those subjects she can explore further. She is looking for common ground or interests that they can chat about and start to build rapport.

Avoid taboo topics such as religion, politics and immigration, and earnings.
Let’s look for what unites us, not what divides us.


About the author: Wojciech Kolodziejczak
Wojciech is an International Business Developer, Cross-cultural Networker and Public Speaker. His mission is to promote cross-cultural networking and to educate professionals that building strong business relations can help them grow their careers, businesses and personal lives. I have been advising small businesses and corporate clients about business development and marketing opportunities in the UK and Poland. I have been also assisting migrant businesses as a speaker and business trainer specialized in cross-cultural networking and business development.

More about Wojchiech: www.lifenetworker.com

Working with the Japanese

 

4 ‘rituals’ to make a smooth welcome for your Japanese business relations

Risk-averse, hierarchy, apply-rules, indirect, attention to the details, conflict avoidance…. These are some of the general Japanese characteristics that are embedded in their subconscious mind, influencing their behaviours.

Some are quite an opposite to the Dutch and I receive tons of questions about the Japanese business culture. Today, I share some Japanese business “rituals” that will be handy to know when you are welcoming your Japanese business relations to your office.

1. Ritual of Preparation 準備

Preparation for any action is considered highly important by the Japanese, as it contributes to an immaculate result and success of any performance or action. The Japanese invest ample time and energy for preparation, from wearing Kimono, making Sushi to conducting business!  

Preparation helps their risk-averse nature. Good preparation would avoid making mistakes and pitfalls.  The Japanese will do utmost to be well-organized, on time and prepared for the visit. They would request for the information and details related to the topic of meetings and a thought-through schedule of the day. Business agility is what many professionals opt for in this era of digital transformation. Japanese style of preparation may seem too much burden or even a destruction to your routine. But by responding timely to their request, you will save much time to do business with them later. Laying a good foundation for later business.

TIP: Always it is appreciated to provide extra information such as your company culture, dress code in the office(formal, informal), surroundings (sightseeing possibility? ) and the weather. So there will be no surprises and have an idea what to expect!

2. Ritual of Greeting 挨拶

You may have heard millions of times about “Japanese business card rituals”, dedicating some moments to introduce themselves by presenting and receiving a business card in two hands, accompanied by a light bowing and some silent moments too.  It is beautiful as they do with our full attention and good intention and we all feel the good vibe during this ceremonial exchange.

Not only because it is a highly appreciative “business manner” in Japan, but it is also the momentum of an opportunity for anyone from any cultural background to connect from your heart, and build trust in a matter of a minute or so. The Japanese, treat business cards with respect, as an extension of ourselves which has our name, position, company are stated. If you don’t carry your business card, that is OK, but take a good respectable moment to receive business cards and introduce yourself. 

TIP: It is an instant mindful moment that you can benefit from and connect to your self first and connect to the others. This ritual of greeting is a  “Trust at First Sight” moment and seeding for a good relationship.

3. Ritual of Meals 食事

From breakfast, lunch to dinner,  from a small simple dish to a gourmet dinner, Japanese take much pleasure and appreciation to have a meal.  It is quality over quantity.  It can be a quick meal, but something that we can look forward. For lunch, in Japan, we enjoy “Bento box lunch” with rice and artfully arranged small portions of meat, fish, and vegetable.  It is an art of foods. 

We will not take a long lunch and a one-hour lunch break is normal.  When your Japanese business relations are on a visit to your office, they would probably be looking forward to lunch and are curious to try out the local specialty. 

TIP: Please do remember the importance of taking time for a meal. Eating together and sharing your food culture is the moment you can make bonding with the Japanese.

4. Ritual of Souvenir お土産

Art of giving a gift is an important part of Japanese culture, especially bringing a souvenir on a visit.  It is a gesture of appreciation and gratitude of any stage of relationships. 

In a business relationship, it is likely that the Japanese bring a small token of gift, something like beautifully wrapped cookies that can be shared in your office. Ask permission to open it, and unwrap the paper gently and never roughly tear it, as the wrapping is also a part of the gift and treat it gently.

TIP: From your office, you could also prepare a small gift, a box of cookies or chocolate, your local specialty as a souvenir to their visit and a token of starting or deepening your business relationship.


About the author: Azumi Uchitani

Azumi is a Japanese national, having spent half of her life in Europe (UK, Ireland, France, Netherlands) with over 20 years of experience in cross-border business development and post-merger integration at leading global companies.

he helps management teams to deal with the Japanese – European cultural differences and make a positive outcome, through seminars, inter-cultural training (among others for Akteos), and coaching sessions. She is also known as an inspirational speaker and teacher and spoken at several times TEDx, bringing Japanese mindfulness to business and life.

More info about Azumi: https://www.azumiuchitani.com/