BY SUSAN GANDHI SCHULTZ
One of the main challenges my clients who do business internationally face? Getting balanced and open input in meetings that involve diverse countries or cultures.
WHY IS IT CHALLENGING TO GET SOME CULTURES TO SPEAK UP DURING MEETINGS?
In a hierarchical culture, it is the senior most who speaks first, and the most. Need for inclusive discussions, fear of making a mistake, or causing loss of face by disagreeing with others, are other reasons that prevent participation.
THUS, PROVIDING MULTIPLE AVENUES TO ENCOURAGE PARTICIPATION, IS VITAL TO FACILITATING EFFECTIVE MULTICULTURAL MEETINGS.
Small Group Discussions.
Avoid asking a question and expecting individuals to speak up right away. Instead, give people a few minutes to discuss among themselves, or in their remote locations, before sharing their ideas.
This addresses the issues hierarchy, inclusion, and face, as well as language differences.
For meetings with small numbers of participants, ask each individual for their input, but with the caveat that they “can pass”.
Open Ended Questions
Saying “no” or “I don’t know” can be challenging for face oriented cultures.
Thus avoid asking questions that force a “yes” or “no” answer. Instead of asking, “Do you have any questions?”, you could say, “Please take 5 minutes to think about questions you may have.”
As much as possible, display written text versus only verbally asking questions. Some cultures may hesitate to ask for clarifications if they cannot understand your spoken words.
Have 10-15 minute breaks every 60-75 minutes. Some participants may prefer to share their thoughts in private versus public, so be available for part of the break time. And after the meeting too.
Call on an Individual?
The complexity of hierarchy, face, etc. can make this a risky option so use it only when you are certain it is appropriate to do so.
So when facilitating international, multicultural or cross-border meetings, keep your focus on your key objective: that of getting input. And then adapt to the cultures involved.
As an Intercultural Consultant, for over 25 years Susan Gandhi Schultz has worked with organizations to successfully develop global leaders, create effective global multi-cultural teams, guide expatriates, and build a cross-culturally inclusive workplace. She is currently authoring a book on Working Effectively Across Cultures, in which she shares insights from nationals from 30 countries on how to succeed when working with their cultures.