Venkat, a discerning participant in a recent training I led, asked, “In global, virtual work environments, how do we respond—when others do not?”
I floated the question to our group. My own in-the-moment response picked up on the cultural dimensions on which we focused in our two-day training: Conscious attention and creative play with the tools of Relationship, Hierarchy and Context[i].
A couple of activities and one pause for reflection later, the amplified intelligence of the group articulated another response to the question. A seed of an idea planted in the mind of one participant had been cultivated with reflection partners who were compelled to share with the whole group: “Listen. Understand. Forgive.”
We need not merely survive the uncertainties that we experience with one another at work. That ambiguity that we may feel—as we interact with differences that are different than our own—offers opportunities to engagebetween one another and discover deeper significance.
Collectively, by the way, these trainees are supafly. Cool in the pop culture sense of the term. With all due respect, of course, to the original reference of a similar name, the Blaxploitation film directed by Gordon Parks, Jr.
Together, they are young professionals—originally from Finland and Germany, India and Singapore, Tunisia, Vietnam and the U.S.—who brilliantly portray a range of Gen Y[ii] and cognitive diversity[iii]. One trainee studies business philosophy; another has a passion for the quality cars her company manufactures; one’s thoughts of the procurement process put a smile on her face; another lets his perfectly coiffed hair and dress do the speaking for him until he decides he has something of value to share. All are enrolled in an extensive professional development program organized by their German, multinational employer.
Listen. Understand. Forgive. Circled up and standing outside on the office patio, we discussed this approach to business. Venkat, listening actively behind his black-rimmed specs, may have been touched and inspired as others voiced that they were. What he verbalized was that he was not so convinced about its real-world application.
We need not merely survive the uncertainties that we experience with one another at work. That ambiguity that we may feel—as we interact with differences that are different than our own—offers opportunities to engagebetween one another and discover deeper significance. Sure, change up your netiquette[iv] in response to the opening question of this blog post, though simply “asking about someone’s family,” as one bi-cultural participant put it, can come off on the receiving end as an empty attempt at a “better practice” learned off a LinkedIn meme. Contrary to popular workplace behavior—and as another participant reminded us—associating principally with colleagues with whom we are comfortable has little place within the scope of next level business relevance.
A thriving growth mindset focused on the people who make the organization is no less a calculated cost-benefit.
Like my supafly trainees, we are at liberty to choose the seed we plant. Return to the basics when you’re unsure how to respond to others’ silent response. Before you escalate, endeavor in the effort to listen for what is (not) being spoken; resolve to understand; and forgive without benefit. While bottom line-dedicated actuaries, efficiency auditors and predominant left-brain thinkers have rooted traditional business practice in what’s green[v], a thriving growth mindset focused on the people who make the organization is no less a calculated cost-benefit.
Perhaps the cherry atop the cake—and a fitting summary of the message of this post—was what our group experienced at the end of Day One. During a technical glitch, I used the time to recap lessons learned, acknowledging each accurate response with a “high five.” Two high fives in, a third participant spontaneously stands and embraces me in a warm hug! Not only a beautiful moment in my training career, but a memorable reminder for us all that the people-to-people connection activates human value.
[i] Relationship, Hierarchy and Context refer to well-researched, national cultural dimensions, namely Task vis-à-vis Relationship, Hierarchical vis-à-vis Egalitarian, and Low vis-à-vis High Context. Email in to learn how these factors affect your workplace.
[ii] While "Gen Y" and "Millennial" refer to the same generation, this multinational group of trainees was unfamiliar with the latter term.
[iii] According to the Mar. 2017 Harvard Business Review article, Teams Solve Problems Faster When They’re More Cognitively Diverse, authored by Alison Reynolds and David Lewis, “Cognitive diversity has been defined as differences in perspective or information processing styles. It is not predicted by factors such as gender, ethnicity or age.”
[iv] Netiquette is etiquette for virtual communications.
[v] "Green" is slang for money in the U.S. because of its color.
people. place. purpose.