The Importance Of Understanding Your Culture Before You Start To Listen To Other Cultures


In low context, “No” means no. “Yes” means yes. I say what I mean, and I mean what I say. I get to the point, and I am direct. High-context is less clear. Contextual is not only about what is said but how it is said….the tone, pitch, facial expressions, etc.
It is important to know your own culture before you can understand someone else’s culture. Today’s guest is Tom Verghese, a cross-cultural consultant. Tom expresses the importance of listening for meaning, what’s unsaid, and use of silence.

We live in a globalized world, yet we spend very little time reflecting on our own culture. So, most of us are unable to articulate our own cultural values. To be a culturally intelligent leader, it is critical to understand your own cultural values.
How can you close a deal by listening to another culture? In this episode, Tom describes how things work across cultures. He is committed to greater understanding across cultures.
Tune in to Learn

  • Tom addresses differences between cultures, such as when scheduling meetings. People can listen carefully to what’s being discussed, rather than spending all their time paying attention to the clock.
  • In some cultures, it is difficult for people to challenge, speak up, have an opinion…unless they are asked or invited to do so.
  • How do you move forward into the senior level of the glass ceiling? It’s not about your education or how hard you worked, it is about the unsaid.
  • It’s about whether people you meet with will trust you, if you will know what to do and use during formal dinners – unspoken things.
  • How do we learn that? Seek sponsorship, guidance, and coaching to learn the rules of the games when it comes to different cultures.
  • It can be as simple as how to shake hands. When Tom first came to Australia to sell encyclopedias door-to-door, he sold nothing. His manager taught him how to properly shake hands there for people to view him as trustworthy, sincere, and reliable – that all comes from a handshake.
  • However, coming from Malasia, Tom had been giving a gentle handshake. There was a clash, and he was giving the wrong impressions.
  • Handshakes and eye contact are non-verbal forms of communication that matter in different cultures.
  • There are differences in high vs. low-context communication styles. It is not just about what is said, but non-verbal communication, as well. The message is not in what is said, but what is not being said.
  • Silence comes into play because there are a lot more gaps when determining when to respond and what to listen for. In Western culture, there are social cues. For example, one person speaks and the other person pauses. In other cultures, there is overlap where people speak at the same time and on top of each other.
  • A gap of silence demonstrates a level of respect. This can be very challenging for some people.
  • Went Tom and a client went to Korea for a meeting in the banking industry, his client found it difficult to not over-talk. He found it a lot easier to talk about what to do in different cultures, than to actually do what you are supposed to do in the moment.
  • This experience helped Tom to improve his coaching techniques by having clients ask a question and then perform a physical movement as a way to keep quiet – become comfortable in the silence.
  • Watch and listen for indicators that typically go over your head. Make sure to ask follow-up questions to move toward action.
  • Years ago, it was about cross-cultural effectiveness: how to deal with different cultures. Now, the focus is on cultural intelligence – how to deal with people from different cultural backgrounds. For example, someone may look Chinese, but they were raised in America, studied in Spain, and married someone from Norway.
  • It comes down to deep listening – how do I listen for the message behind the words?
  • How do you start a meeting that is conscious of all cultures present? Establish agreements, ground rules, and a belief system. For example, agree on a specific time standard, ie. British, India, etc.
  • If you work with language interpreters, Tom’s advice is to speak less.
  • Be careful. Jokes are very difficult to translate across different cultures.
  • The person who breaks the rules is the person who does n, which creates angst.
  • Different cultures treat conflict differently. Conflict involves different points of agreement and view. When dealing with someone who has a different view, disagree gently and in ways that maintain relationships.
  • Be interested in the other and what they are saying. Everyone has a story. Listen to that story.

Podcast by Oscar Trimboli – Deep Listening – Impact beyond words