Being culturally aware is not only about others but also about ourself !

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When working internationally, managers and organizations focus on their business partners and clients. What are their needs, their demands, and how can these be met ?

Meeting the customer´s demand and providing excellent customer service is of utmost importance in today´s global and competitive business world.

Being aware of cultural differences through leading intercultural teams, working with business partners from other countries and doing business on a global scale is of the essence. Many organizations are aware of the need to be culturally aware, however do they take the right steps to achieve this awareness ?

Many businesses and mostly SMEs fail on the international scene as they lack the know how and awareness, training their managers and leaders would be a strategic advantage that could secure them further business abroad.

Business failure starts already with the communication: how do the managers communicate with their business partners and customers ? Then it is about customs: what is important for my customer ? Relationship or business ? How do I introduce myself ? How do I speak about business if we are at a social event ? How should I interact ? What kind of question may I ask ?

And when working in intercultural teams: how do I need to communicate with my fellow team members ? What is acceptable behaviour ? How do I provide feedback to my colleagues ? How can I bring my team to work more harmoniously to increase its performance ?

As we can see all these questions are about behaviour and how we should behave towards others. When doing business internationally it is of course the most important thing and this is what is taught in cultural awareness trainings: how to do business internationally.

An aspect which we, at be-a-chameleon, take into consideration, is the individual taking the cultural awareness training (which we call Cultural Consciousness). Additionally to providing him/her with know how about how to adapt and communicate better across cultures, we look at how he/she perceives these changes and tools and how these affect him/her. In our training we make sure that you learn to adapt without changing who you are, we give you tools and know how, however before that we seek to understand how you perceive the world and what your values and beliefs are because we are aware that certain situations may bring you out of your comfort zone. So understanding what your comfort zone is, we can help you go beyond it and make sure that in your next intercultural experiences you will be more comfortable and confident.

We will be providing a Cultural Consciousness training mid-June 2013 in London, please feel free to contact us for further details at info@be-a-chameleon.com, and watch this space as we will post more information this month.

 

 

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Where is respect today ?

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Have you ever taken the bus, tube, train or plane and asked yourself why people were pushing you around and talking loudly on the telephone ? Unfortunately, these situations do not only take place in these circumstances but take place in every aspect of our lives ! The tradition or value of respecting others is unfortunately fading away, the trend today is to think of one´s self and not others, whether it s when you travel or when you are at work, you have colleagues, or bosses that will do anything in their power to keep you from moving forward. This is not only based on respect, it is based on the search for achieving a higher purpose, however at which cost ?

We live in a world that grows very fast, we learn to live as a community, respect elderly people, the hierarchy and learn how to live and communicate with people from different cultures and backgrounds. I have chosen to give an example of the workplace as i have spoken to many young professionals in the past months to understand how the marketplace was and understand how these young individuals succeed in the workplace.

I have thus spoken to many graduates and post graduates that have started working and their fear is that they do not see how they can succeed in their job as their bosses keep them on a tight rope and do not wish for them to take on projects on their own. Of course, when you start a new job, there is a learning phase, where you need to be tutored and taught the ropes, however it is 6 months to a year later that these young people do not know how to talk to their bosses and show that they want to succeed and climb the hierarchical ladder. Some say that because their bosses are afraid that they may take their place they are mobbed or kept to the strict minimum of independence and others say that they feel the need to look for another job because they do not see potential for growth in the company they work for.

Of course these are examples which are negative, however these negative examples also show that unfortunately the impact this treatment has is the word of mouth that the companies these young individuals work for are not good, and we know that if there is no satisfaction, the impact is much stronger and people speak more about it. This doesn´t only happen in the workplace, it happens also in the recruiting process where young professionals feel rejected or not taken seriously when they do not get any response from the companies they have applied for. Of course we know that there are lots of applicants for jobs, these young professionals are aware of this and also have a good feedback or memory of companies that have taken the time to write to them saying that they were not considered or that they were being kept in the database should any other jobs come up.

These little things make a big difference, young professionals feel like they mean something, and they will speak highly of companies that have given them feedback, which on the long run will have a very good impact on the company image.

I clustered these examples, travel and workplace as respect because it seems like the concept of living in a community is being lost, we only care about ourselves and do not see the impact we have on others and what this may cause on the long run. These are easy steps to take, show people that you are interested in them, that you value their opinion, their professionalism; show when you take the train or the bus or the plane that you are concerned about the welfare of others and keep your communication to a minimum or if you have to talk then use a lower tone, people will appreciate it. Last but not all, respecting others in every aspect of your life will bring positive things to you, recognition, people may look up to you and keeping your word will become a part of who you are.

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Mindful Coaching Workshop in London – 16th April

Dear all,

a very good friend and colleague is providing a Mindful coaching workshop in London on Tuesday 16th April 2013.

Please find enclosed the flyer MIndful Coaching Workshop

I hope we will see some of you at the workshop !

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Leaving your country to live abroad – provided by our guest blogger Ozchameleon

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More than three years ago I decided to leave Europe to go and have a career change by studying a Master degree in Australia! The initial plan was to study for a year and return to Europe after. As you can imagine, like many foreigners here, I fell in love with that country, the nature, the laid back environment (not always easy but learnt a lot) and the life I created for myself!

One has to admit, that my personal journey has not always been an easy one but it has enriched me with experience, resilience and many funny stories to tell!

Before the start of my journey, whilst still in Europe, I was quite organised for a change as this time, I read about the country I was going to (Australia), made research to find out more about the culture etc. This was important for me as I did travel a lot and loved discovering new places and cultures but this time, I knew I was going to live there for a while and was very curious of this foreign land on the other side of the world, Down Under!

As an anecdote, what stuck around until now was the interesting fact a document said about Aussies: apparently, Australians often make jokes about their friends and one should not get offended if they do it to you! To be honest, this is true! One should not take one´s self too seriously as life is beautiful and simple!

Adapting to the culture – Australian Lifestyle

My first intercultural shock was the Aussie accent! Being used to the American and British one, I was just having difficulties understanding them especially when they used slang! Since, I´ve adapted myself and find it shocking when going back to England as I´m not used to hearing that accent anymore.

The other shock as a French individual was the fashion in Australia! It is an easygoing country and people live a simple and practical life but ´oh God´, the French fashion police would stop them then and now me if they saw us/me that way… To draw the picture, being a city near the beach and being quite relaxed compared to European cities, you see men in suits wearing flip-flops or like they say here ´thongs´, and business women in a smart dress wearing sneakers!!! Let me tell you that now I don´t care anymore what people think as I discovered the comfort of wearing these shoes to go to work instead of those beautiful but now painful heels that get caught in the holes in the street or on escalators when going to take the train or in a shopping centre!

Some French friends of mine can´t believe I´m actually doing that! How could I? As I tell them… power of adaptation 😉

Friendships in Australia

So I arrived in Australia and apart from the little shocks you cannot find in books, I decided to follow the lifestyle and move into a flatshare. It was an amazing experience as I met great people and managed to have a circle of friends, which since have evolved but this is life.

As such, I found the Australian culture in terms of friendship quite similar to the Americans. It is quite easy to speak to some of them but it takes a while until it actually becomes a friendship. Not knowing this, you could easily be deceived thinking you’ve established a great friendship but then at the end, you realise it took you actually two years to find out more about the individual who then starts to introduce you to their closer circle of friends and family. I must admit that the people I have encountered are in general very independent and live their life as they feel and keep it simple, which is a good balance and a cultural shock when you are not used to that but more to closer friendships.

To summarise, in order to adapt, I simply absorbed what I read, observed the human interaction in different settings to get my own understanding, analysed and replicated what felt aligned with my own self. It worked perfectly well and this is a process my family and I have gone through for as long as I have lived, which makes it pretty integrated and unconscious by now.

Other Culture shock  – at a funeral

A member of my Australian partner family unfortunately died unexpectedly. It was quite a tough experience for him in these particular circumstances.

The funeral was quickly organised and arranged by his aunts through a funeral service (all funerals are organised through here). The ceremony and cremation were done on that particular funeral home premises.

After the service, the shocking part of the story was that it was suggested by a member to go with who desired to an RSL Club (Returned and Services League); which is a place where you have a pub, a sitting area, some TVs to watch sports and a gaming room (casino and bingo room).

Coming from Europe where you usually go to church, then to a state or church cemetery and then go to a family members house or a restaurant for lunch, it was a shock to me! We did talk after the lunch with my partner and I told him about my perspective and what had shocked me. He seemed not to be that shocked as it was usual to do it the way it was done. He appreciated my concerns and did realise that indeed, different cultures and different families here in Australia did it differently but he realised that the family values and expression of emotions was quite different for him and most Australians.

For more information on any of the stories or any comments you would like to make about a similar or different experience, please feel free to leave a message J

Enjoy!

Yours,  Ozchameleon

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How to communicate effectively Online !

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Have you ever felt like you were spending time writing up an email, and when you received an answer from your counterpart a few days (if not weeks) later, you realized that what you asked for or expected was not understood ?

Well hopefully this article will help you understand online etiquette and how to communicate more effectively online. Please also feel free to share and comment if you have other tips to share with the community or if you have examples !

You can communicate online with different tools such as email, voice over IP, web conferencing and online platforms. In today´s world everything or almost everything is done via the web, we shop, we chat, we meet people, we train and we connect. There are however certain things that we need to keep in mind when we communicate online that are just as important as when we would communicate face-to-face.

Netiquette:

  • The netiquette states that when receiving an email, the response time should be no longer than 24 hours (especially if it is business related).
  • Be polite, clear, precise, straight to the point in your communication
  • Avoid using upper case writing as this would come across to the receiver of your email as SCREAMING !

Now this is the netiquette, we all know that some of these rules are followed and others are not, we cannot control when our counterpart will answer and if he answers late he surely has his/her reasons (lots of work, working on different projects, very busy). My advice would be that if you see that within a week you have not been answered your query send a gentle reminder email.

Emails

  • When we send emails we tend especially in the UK and the US to address them by using the first name of our counterpart. We have to be very careful as in certain cultures this could be perceived as very informal (for example France, Germany, Spain). Write your first email by using the last name of the person you are contacting. If you see that when the person writes you back using your first name, you can continue communicating on that basis.
  • Also good to know is that in certain cultures as for example Germany, titles are very important and are a sign of status so if the person you are writing to is a Professor or a Doctor, write Dear Pr. XXX or Dear Dr. XXX this will be highly valued.
  • Make sure that when you write your first email to a client you stay very formal, write short, precise and clear sentences, be clear in your message and what you offer, doing this will enable your client to better understand what it is you are selling or what it is you offer him/her.
  • Be patient with regards to answers, the netiquette says 24 hours however you may receive an answer days or weeks later, do not take it personally, just like you your client may be busy and have his reasons for not answering straight away.
  • When you receive an email, make sure you read it entirely and that you get the point of it, the person on the other side may get frustrated if you ask questions about what is already mentioned in his/her email, so dedicate all your attention to what is written in the mail.
  • If you then have further questions or need clarifications then write them clearly.
  • When you work in a big organisation, hierarchy may be very important, especially if you are on a big project so make sure to put your manager on CC (copy) so that if there is any problem he/she can step in.
  • If you are dealing with colleagues or clients from another culture make sure you use current vocabulary, so that they can understand what you are writing, avoid difficult words or phrases, keep it smart and simple, that is the best way to communicate effectively !

Building relationships:

Many cultures function with relationships, for example Latin America, the Middle East and Asia, so remember that it is not easy to build relationships via the web. Face-to-face connection in these cultures is important because your business partner will want to know you, what you do, and how you look like. A good tip would be to phone them or video conference with them to start building up a relationship. This is of course if your company has restricted travel budgets and you cannot meet your partner. Make sure that you keep in touch with them on a regular basis so that you can nurture the relationship.

Voice over IP and video conferencing:

Remember that English is spoken widely across the globe, however it is not necessarily the mother tongue or first language of your partner, so make sure you speak clearly, use simple words, make short sentences and get your point across as efficiently as possible. Also if you have any accents take them into account, speak slowly, articulate and avoid mumbling.

These are a few tips that could make a difference in the way you communicate, remember to be clear and precise, be patient, if you feel angry at something that has been written or said, bite your tongue or your fingers before answering as the rule number 1 is to stay polite and respectful to the person you are communicating with.

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Merry Christmas !!!

Dear all,

We would like to wish you and your families a merry Christmas and all the best for 2013 !!! Good health, love, friendship and success in everything you do !!!

Your be-a-chameleon team !

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What is being culturally aware ?

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Being culturally aware is the capacity to switch from one way of seeing the world to another.

It is the capability to understand what is going on around us in a business or team meeting, understanding that differences are there and that the way I see the world may be different from the way my counterpart may see it.

To become culturally aware there are three steps which we reflect in our new training which will come out in 2013 (Cultural Consciousness). The three steps are as follows:

1. Knowing who you are and where you come from

Knowing who you are, including your personality type and where you come from, i.e. your cultural background, is the first step to pinpointing the way you see the world. Once you understand what is important to you in terms of values and beliefs and what your biases are, hence what triggers you and what makes you react in a way that may compromise a business deal or team work, enables you to see past your biases and values because you are consciously aware that these are the points that may affect your behaviour.

2. Being open to differences

Being conscious of who you are and where you come from now gives you the opportunity to reflect on differences. How do people see the world? What is their perception of time, how do they communicate, what would trigger them to refuse to do business with me ? Throughout your business and personal life you will come across people from different walks of life that will see the world differently and the best thing to do when meeting these people is taking notes about what is different about them: what makes them tick, what are their preferences, what are their values and beliefs, how do they make business? This second step is very important as it will emphasize your ability to analyse what is happening around you and embrace differences.

3. Learn from those who are different

As mentioned in point 2, taking notes of differences that you come across can be a valuable exercise especially since it will give you the power to switch from one way of thinking/ seeing the world to another. You will feel more at ease in different situations and your stress and anxiety levels will drop significantly giving you the opportunity to work across cultures and communicate well with people from different cultures.

These three points are the important points we focus on in our training as being aware of who you are, others are different from you and embracing differences will be a long-term investment (training wise but also personally) as it will take you on a journey of self-reflection and self discovery.

Do feel free to contact us if you would like to find out more on our Cultural Consciousness training which will start beginning of 2013.

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The power of listening

Whether in personal life, at work or in a business setting, one cannot communicate unless one listens.

We think that listening is easy and that we do it everyday, indeed we do, but what is it that we register when we have a discussion with friends, partner, colleagues or potential clients ? Do we really understand what the person we have in front of us,on the phone or on a virtual conference is telling us?
There are many factors that can hinder active listening, these can be:  a noisy surrounding, a bad telephone or virtual line, multi-tasking (some may agree and others disagree), the language barrier, our personal bias toward the discussion, our personal preference and many more, I am sure you can come up with other distracting factors.

The biggest mistake we do when we communicate with others is that because they speak the same language we assume will understand each other ! unfortunately it is not always the case as we can speak the same language but if we speak with someone who´s native tongue is not the one used we may lose a vital point and that may lead into miscommunication or even conflict.

 
When we say we can be biased by our personal preferences it can be true. Have you ever been in a conversation with someone and focused so much on what you wanted to say and wanted to sell that you completely lost the message of your counterpart? This can be fatal in business, indeed what we want to achieve in business is good relationships and a contract. How do you want to have a contract if your customer thinks and feels that you do not listen to him and thus do not understand his needs ?

 
This happens also in teams, because there are many members, one has to be able to listen and get what every member has to say and how they want to proceed. If one member feels left out, the worst case scenario would be that he isolates him/herself and may create group noise. Such a distraction could be fatal to the productivity of your team.

So how can we improve our  listening skills ? how can we master the power of listening ?

First identify what your personal preferences are, if you like to talk a lot, work on developing your listening skills by reducing the amount of information you deliver, and open yourself to your counterpart. Ask questions that will help you understand his/ her needs better, practice active listening by reformulating what you have heard and making sure that you are on the same wave length.

 
Second, if you are speaking to a non native speaker, ask questions, reformulate your questions if you feel that you were not understood, repeat what you have heard, observe the body language (a smile may signal that you are on the right track). Indeed in certain cultures (mostly indirect cultures), half of the message will be transmitted through body language so it is important that you not only listen with your ears, but also with your eyes.

Lastly, you can practice at home with your partner or your friends, ask them for feedback, see if you have gotten their message, see if you understand what it is they want and if they have gotten their point across. This will enable you to be more in tune with your business partners (and team members) and make them feel understood and especially show them that you know what they need and can provide them with the product/ service that best suits them and their expectations.

 

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OAR Model: 3 simple steps to a better adaptation

Let´s  take a small break from our Myanmar travel and focus more on how to adapt better to a new culture; whether it is when we travel, when we do business or when we relocate to a new country.

During our “Appreciating Culture” training (http://be-a-chameleon.com/culture.html) we focus on the individual/ participant´s own culture and personality. Indeed it is important for us to know who we are, where we come from and what is important to us in terms of values, beliefs and preferences. Thus the first part of the training is about understanding one´s self and one´s biases.

Understanding one´s bias can be a trigger to understanding how we tick in certain situations we are confronted to, and through the training we support participants to see beyond these biases and open their minds and views of others more. Having a bias can have a negative impact on business as it could compromise the relationship we are trying to build with our counterpart because we will focus on our assumptions about this person and his/her culture using probably stereotypes or past experiences.

What we have to remember is that we are all unique, we all see the world differently, we have different ways of doing business and we most probably have different ways of living our lives according to our value system that has been transmitted to us by our family, education, our personal preferences (personality) and to a certain extent our workplace (company culture).

We have come up with a simple three-step model that can really help individuals, companies and even teams to better adapt to one another and other cultures. This model is used in our training in the second half of the session, as it enables and empowers participants to see beyond their biases and see that working across cultures can be less stressful.

The three easy steps are:

Observe, Analyze and Replicate.

Observe is all about identifying what is happening around you. How do people interact with each other, how do the greet each other, how do they do business, what is important to them? How do they dress? do they use body language? do they stand close to one another or do they have a certain distance between them ? All these questions and observations lead to the analyze step.

Analyze is all about understanding what your observations represent for you. How comfortable would you feel according to what you have observed, what would you have to do to fit in let´s say if you are not comfortable with close proximity. How much effort will you need to make. Now the important aspect here is to not perceive the “extra step” as an effort. I said effort because this is how we think about it because it pushes our boundaries, however remember that people feel it when we do too much effort, with experience and being aware of what you do will give you more ease and you will be less stressed and anxious to meet new counterparts. The third step is replicate.

Now the third step is Replicate. The point here is not to mimic your counterpart but to take in his culture and ways of doing things to find a common ground. For example you could speak with a low voice if you are dealing with an Asian counterpart, or you could stay close to your counterpart if you are in a Latin country. We do not want you to exceed yourself – replicate to the degree you feel comfortable with and without overdoing it, as your counterpart may feel that something in your behaviour is wrong.
These three easy steps have been used by some of our trainees and have helped them reduce their stress and anxiety levels when dealing with other cultures, and with experience they have gotten better and do not feel that they stretch themselves too much.

We truly hope that these three steps will help you,

Enjoy

 

 

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Visiting Myanmar – Day 3 Bagan

After a good night sleep and breakfast at 8:30 we headed to visit two more Pagodas (or Payas in local language) dating from the 11 th Century which had still intact paintings.
After visiting the payas we went to have a look at local paintings by local artists in old Bagan. At 12.00 we went for lunch and had again a choice of beef, porc, fish or chicken with rice and curry which I have to admit is delicious ! The curry is very mild and the rice melts in your mouth !
We had a little break after lunch which enabled me to gather a few cultural tips which you can find hereunder:

– Burmese smoke cigarettes, cigars but most of all they chew bettle leaves or roots which for certain people is considered as a drug ! Chewing bettle leaves or roots has the consequence of giving them a red mouth and you will see many people with very bad mouth hygiene, that is mainly due to the effects of the bettle leaves. Just to prove that bettle leaves, nuts or roots are very popular and a part of the culture, a bettle vendor can make up to USD 200 per day ! Which could be a week’s salary for a normal burmese.

– To signal that you are here just lift your hand up, one doesn´t need to speak, shout or wave, lifting the hand up is enough for people to notice you.

– To say to someone to come to you, use your hand, palm facing down and making a movement towards you.

– Do not point your feet at people, it is considered an insult

– If you need to physically approach someone, avoid touching them by the wait, hips or head.

After our little break we continued our tour of the pagodas and encountered a lot of little vendors.

A few tips when dealing with vendors:

– Say hello, stay friendly and thank them for showing you their goods. Just politely say that you are not interested and continue walking without paying attention to them. After a while they will leave you alone. The key here is to stay polite and calm !

We finished the day watching the sunset and having dinner.

Culture facts:

– Fish is very expensive for local people so they seldom have fish at home.

– Travelling is also very expensive so unless they have a motorbike what they will do is spend their holidays in their village but celebrating and visiting festivals nearby.

– Wild berries are collected in the woods and dried by the farmers who collected them, The farmers then sell them to tradesmen who sell these to Chinese. The chinese used these wild berries for traditional Chinese medicine (male impotence to be more specific). Chinese business men make a lot of money out of these whereas local farmers earn peanuts.

– Vegetables and fruits are not exported because they are not to international standards which is a pity because Burmese mangoes are delicious !

– Raw materials include, teak wood, cotton, peanuts, rice, fish, vegetables and fruits.

– Having a telephone is very expensive, a mobile even more, for example to call for 10 minutes internationally it costs 10USD ! Internet however can be accessed in hotels or certain restaurants but the connection is very slow.

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