I was in Paris last week as one does in a post-holiday treat before really hitting the rat race… again, and one of my client who I was having lunch with asked be: “Oh Marianne, I just read on your biography that you’ve worked in 6 different countries with over 80 nationalities. That must take superb communication skills to get the best out of people when you’re conversing in a 3rd or 4th language!” I laughed, but actually….
First of all, and to straighten the record… it is now 8 countries and close to 100 nationalities… and hopefully it will continue to increase with the years to come.
How do I do this? Hum let me think… there is a beautiful little thing called English that does wonder for business…
No, joke on the side, I believe communications skills are the number one skill one needs to focus on to successfully lead and nowadays work in more and more multi-cultural environments.
It needs to go deep, very deep. The starting point is to understand the cultural making and the psyche of the population you are going to interact with.
I am currently expanding in the Middle East and on my bedside table you will find a mix of FT articles, academic books, religious books, a couple of novels and, poetry, yes, you read well poetry… because a lot transpire from language and culture.
Getting a wide array of sources help me gage my own perception gap, be aware of my own cultural bias and in a better position to address them.
I always follow the same process, I research, I read, I think I meet with different people and communities. I learn as much as I can- yes full circle back to learning – and I guess, I always try to engage with humility and from a position where I can assess the cultural gap and ultimately bridge it.
Listening and observing are critical…and yes speaking the local language can help, but to me it is just another element in the equation.
From a leadership perspective, it is more about understanding what drive the other person, and try to agree on goals that are both appealing for him/her and matching the need of the organization you are working in.
We are in a highly virtual world, but at the end of the day, business is done with people of flesh and bone. They come with history, a story, a personality, needs and fears. The closest you can get to understanding THE person, the closest you will get to be successful as a leader, or as a business person.
So the truth about communication skills? It is not about language, or even about body language. It is about the capacity to interact from one human being… to another.