Hello everybody, I’m Victoria Rennoldson, Communication and Culture Coach, and welcome to this week’s post. You can choose to watch this by clicking ‘play’ on the video above, which also has subtitles.
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Finally, you can also read the blog as well, right here on the website as you are now, so welcome to today’s video audio and blog, and today’s topic is all about how culture can influence online meetings in international teams:
Hello everybody, I’m Victoria Rennoldson, Communication and Culture Coach, and in today’s topic I wanted to talk about how cultural factors are influencing online meetings.
So wherever you are in the world, and I’m sure it’s very different wherever you are, it could be that you’re in full lockdown, perhaps you are working remotely, working from home or perhaps you’re even back in the office. The point is, we’re all very used to remote working by now, we’re very used to the idea of online meetings, and perhaps we’re not very consciously aware about how we’re interacting with others during those meetings, particularly in international, multilingual and multicultural teams. The reality is that we actually need to be more aware of it, because it’s easy for us to forget that it can actually be challenging for lots of different people to join the call and to be contributing in the way we’re expecting.
Why is this? Well, we all assume that we live in this very globalised world, where we know how to work and connect virtually in a very easy way, and that we’re all doing that in the same way, but the reality is that there are many different cultural factors which are impacting us and influencing how we are communicating and interacting in those meetings. That is quite important to understand, because it has an impact on how we are developing those connections, how we’re building up the conversation and ultimately how deep those relationships go, which is incredibly important when we’re working with people that we probably have never met, and working in different countries from us. So what I wanted to do in today’s topic, was share with you the key cultural factors, so you have a bit of an insight into what they are, and some examples of how they’re influencing online meetings. You can raise your awareness with this information, and for me, the key objective is that I really want to get to a place where we’re having much more of an inclusive environment, so that in multilingual multicultural teams everybody has a share of voice that they feel able to contribute in the way that feels comfortable to them. Also, that they feel that they have a way to contribute that works with their cultural style.
So, let’s get into those cultural factors… The first one I wanted to talk about was actually small talk. Now, this may seem like a big topic in itself, and small talk is an interesting topic, because culturally, people have different attitudes to the role of small talk. It comes back down to whether people value it, so in some cultures it’s considered as a little bit of a waste of time, just empty talk, nothing really is said and therefore it’s just kind of better to get on with the meeting, and that’s particularly true I think within the online environment. But for some cultures it’s incredibly important, and you need to allow enough time for that small talk to develop the conversation to get to know people a bit more personally. It could be seen as an important ritual part of the meeting, so be aware of that.
I think in online meetings we’re very tempted to just get to the point quickly, to get on, to be very fast, but actually sometimes we’re not allowing enough time for the small talk either at the beginning of the meeting, and I would argue sometimes we need a very brief amount of small talk also at the end of the meeting as well.
The second one is listening: culturally people listen in different ways, so what you may find for some cultures is that listening is not actually ‘listening’, but it is actually people often talking on top of each other and contributing at the same time. There’s very little space between one person finishing their sentence and the next person expressing their opinion. However, for other cultures, it’s actually incredibly important to listen incredibly intensively to what the other person is, or people are, saying, and that person will wait, and really wait, until the end of everything that has been said and then pause, and then they will wait a little bit longer before they start expressing their opinion. That, for them, demonstrates respect and active listening style. For other cultures, what might be confusing is when you see somebody, and you see their body language signals, and that somebody is appearing to be listening (perhaps they’re nodding their head and smiling), but actually in reality that person isn’t really listening deeply inside, which we must also understand.
The next factor I want to talk about is hierarchy, and how that influences and comes into the online meeting space. There are different views on hierarchy, and that is influenced by national culture. Clearly there are some cultures which are very egalitarian at work, have very flat structures, and the boss is just part of the team, but there are some cultures where it’s incredibly important that there is one key person in charge and that person has a very important role within the online meeting space. So, as an example, in India, and in some Asian cultures, people would be respecting the order in which to speak and contribute their opinion, starting with the senior leader in the room, then following by the middle management, and then by the junior people in the room. We need to be aware of this when planning for meetings, and thinking about how we want people to contribute in the right way. As it could also happen, for example, that in some cultures some people would feel very uncomfortable expressing a view in front of their senior managers or leaders verbally, in the large group, so there may be other ways and tools within online meetings that we can allow to include people. For example, getting them to contribute through the chat function, through whiteboards, and other ways where they can write their opinions, such as Mentimeter, where you can get people to vote anonymously, or express their opinion anonymously, so they feel safer to contribute in that environment.
Now let’s talk about feedback style. I think feedback style is so fascinating, it’s a huge topic in itself, but feedback style about how we tell people that we like their idea or even that we don’t like it, and that we disagree with them. This is a huge factor, because it really does vary from culture to culture, and clearly you have some cultures where being direct and honest to the point, saying exactly what you want to say in front of everybody else, is not a problem at all, and there are many examples of those types of cultures. Here are a few examples: Dutch culture generally tends to be more direct; Israeli culture, Russian culture, but actually there are lots of cultures where being more indirect is important if you want to keep the team harmony, or keep the sense of team working well together. So if you’re expressing any kind of disagreement or any sort of negative feedback, then we have to be very very careful, and we have to think about the best way to do that and whether the online meeting space with a big group is the right place for that.
So there we go, I have a whole load of other factors, that I was going to talk about, but I appreciate we probably don’t want to go too long today, I just wanted to share some of those key factors with you and demonstrate how important cultural factors are, when it comes to thinking about planning your online meetings, and particularly when you’re working in international teams, in multilingual multicultural teams. I can be very important to plan those interactions, so that culturally everybody has an opportunity to get involved, and you don’t end up in a situation where some people are dominating the conversation and some people are feeling left out, or not actively participating.