Do you recall the first time you stepped into an international business reception at a major hotel and found yourself amidst a sea of Asian faces? If so, you may also have noticed a diversity of Asian cultures and conversations in some incomprehensible languages: Cantonese Chinese, Hindi, Korean, Malay, Mandarin Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, and perhaps others. If you have been put off when people in your presence have spoken a language other than English, you are not alone.
Small talk delights and confounds us, and it is worth asking why. In this short humorous piece I will confine myself to American small talk, as there appear to be different variations on this tune, as Mark Twain might also have pointed out if he had written more about American English and less about the German language.
On the one hand, it can feel overly factual and too easy, (are they making fun of me?) on the other hand, it is full of ambiguity and hidden meaning. But do you KNOW what that meaning is? It is also a way of getting to know you quickly, whatever the circumstances, sharing information, getting the real information fast or just having some fun in a bored moment.
Hence I share with you a “Small Talk Vignette” from one of my trips in the US. Although I am American, I have felt like a foreigner in the US at various times, and this was one of them:
The diversity movement has raised myriad issues regarding language and the exercise of speech. Indeed, some critics of diversity efforts have accused its advocates of undermining the U.S. tradition of free speech. Yet that argument is ill-founded, for two reasons. First, because totally “free” speech does not exist in the United States. Second, because establishing selective legal limits on speech is as historically American as apple pie.
This is the fifth in a series of columns based on my research as a past fellow of the University of California National Center for Free Speech and Civic Engagement. In earlier columns I argued that diversity advocates should not be drawn into the position of opposing free speech, because it does not really exist. Rather they should clarify and reframe the issue.
Neuro Communication with James Brown
The musical neuro communication with Ravi Shankar ended with his deep bow. The burst of applause was startling after the stillness, as was the quick dash of movement to the bathrooms. I turned to Cousin Sam, thanked him, and started to put on my coat. Sam didn’t move, ”We should stay for the next act.” I whined at that, “I’m tired and it’s a long schlep back to campus on the bus.” “Trust me. We should stay,” he said softly, but firmly. And so, mildly kvetching (complaining in Yiddish), I was still seated when the curtain re-opened.
Five days ago, I was on the other side of the globe. Exhausted from twelve weeks of attempting to keep up with this fast-paced Mecca of the international business world, I was still not ready to extract myself from the extrovert’s haven that is Shanghai. This is the land of business cards and alcohol, where the networking maniacs of the West flock to jump into the Eastern financial “boom”, assuming that the “bust” is nowhere in sight. For one brief summer, I was a part of this cultural mish-mash, ecstatic to surround myself with the expats, entrepreneurs, and “students of life” that are so enthusiastic to be exposed to the challenges of living in such a foreign, yet increasingly Westernized, environment. Being a student of psychology, the best way for me to summarize my experience in China is to describe the mental processes I used to adapt. Looking back on my little adventure, I can easily identify the points at which I hit the various stages of Culture Shock, and it is through this cycle that I feel others can catch a better glimpse of my path of growth.
According to the Conference Board the global economy will slow in key markets such as Europe and Japan and U.S. companies will struggle with exports to China and mature economies around the world. Yet, for many, doing business globally remains a primary source of revenue and a major goal in 2019. Few are naive about the challenges involved in going global in today’s environment. But expanding the local-global connection will be a 2019 goal for many businesses, leaders, and employees. Here’s what they will need to consider.
Eric Kruger is an international, multi-lingual, business and policy economist, professionally trained executive coach and a specialist in customized cross-cultural management training. He has worked on international corporate strategy in German, British and French companies and worked in Latin America and East Asia.
Kruger founded Compass Development Strategies to bring the benefits of coaching and training to employees and professionals at all organizational levels. Since 2009, he’s been the lead international management consultant for Volkswagen Chattanooga.
An economics professor at the U. of Tennessee/ Chattanooga, Kruger holds degrees in international economics from the London School of Economics, University College, London and the Graduate Faculty of the New School U. in New York.
Cross Cultural Expertise is the marketing leadership tool of a future that’s coming for us like a high speed train. While that train may go through tunnels and across challenging terrain with a new administration, technology is shrinking our world and that train is gathering speed. Our workforce, our suppliers, and, above all, our marketing professionals need the skill set of cross-cultural communication, cultural competence, conflict management, and problem solving. They are the fuel to compete in the future and without them, the train may miss its target destination and risk derailment.
An American company quietly shuts down their APAC office in Singapore. They conclude that the business model “doesn’t work in Asia.” The local team wouldn’t innovate and respond to local market needs. The American Managing Director thought having a ‘flat hierarchy’ was the answer. He was wrong. His company writes off a few million dollars.
Chattanooga’s Lean In Chapter began its exploration of global leadership where leadership begins: self-awareness. Why is self-awareness the integral ingredient to real leadership? These Women Groundbreakers answered that question with the energy and passion of people who have “been there – done that.” They shared stories of how you have to know yourself, strengths, weaknesses, values, before you can lead others. Knowing what drives you and feeds your soul gives you the ability to overcome your weaknesses and challenges. Understanding your roots gives awareness to and appreciation of other cultures. Self-awareness begins a process of growth which leads to change which should ultimately extend out to help others.