Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Lesson of the day: Learn how to play with others (from different countries)

I'm starting to wonder if it's not my job, but the context in which I work. I mean I don't hate my job, but the systems i work in and how the people respond to the system or me. Or maybe it's just how I see things. (Though I still think that they squeeze our little wills of every blessed drop around here).

I had to work with some folks on the other side of the planet, and I've been finding it difficult to communicate and gather information. I did some reading on inter-cultural communication and I learned a number of things about working with folks in SE Asia:

1.)Involve intermediaries, and get formal introductions. I had to reference my relationships with others in the group that my target audience was already familiar with and actually invite them into the conversation. This work out well, as my e-mails were suddenly noticed and responded to.

2.) Understand that there is a pecking order. Normally when I speak with someone I try to introduce myself and explain what I do and then what I want. This is how we're trained to work here, be concise (don't worry if people don't think it's not nice). And normally, I wouldn't think about copying someone's supervisor on an e-mail. I, as a western-raised individual, would see this as an insulting and micromanaging move. However, I think that in this case it may have worked because I explained the situation and how I was willing to assist and provide information if it was necessary. Also, I did try to make it clear that I wanted to get something done. It's a hard balance trying to influence without seeming pushy.

3.) Keep it short. I really did make an effort to make everything clear and concise in my e-mails as well as methodically setting up procedures.

4.) Ask questions and listen carefully. In a phone conversation I restated some of the questions I had in the e-mail. I did stop and let the person answer. I did restrain from making comments or redirecting, but I did instead 'share' my knowledge.

5.) Understand that you are working with a high-context culture. Less talk more background. In communicating the procedure I was setting up with the folks in SE Asia I made sure that I explained the consequences of improper set up (without being a neurotic freak... it helps to do this calmly and methodically) as well as some of our 'good known' methods.

I walked away from all of this feeling much better and collected... and actually quite proud of myself. By the way, before getting frustrated when you have to work with others overseas. I would suggest doing some research on the culture and how to communicate effectively as a foreigner.

I took this 'intercultural' quiz once which placed me somewhere between a Swede and an Israeli (culturally)... I'm really not sure what this means... I'm an outspoken broad who enjoys a broad array of potato salads? Kind of strange that a little girl who was raised in an extremely high-context environment where you say or challenge little becomes a brassy sometimes irritating gadfly. You know I'm too old and too f'in tired to apologize for this behavior anymore.


Some notes about High-context/Low-context:

http://www2.soc.hawaii.edu/css/dept/com/resources/intercultural/Hall.html

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