This week we are excited to bring to you Part 2 of our series on The Five Things a CEO Can Learn From Vistage: Tools for Communication.

Most of life’s problems arise from an inability to communicate effectively. But why is that? Why is something that seems so simple, in reality so difficult?

Clear, concise, effective communication is a talent. It is something people must work at to develop. Luckily for you, I have some tips on how to make your communication 100% effective. It starts with this simple fact: Not one person or culture communicates the same way.

This truth was illustrated to me during a monthly session with my Vistage Chair Lance Descourouez. He began with a question which I will now pose to you: What are the chances a person would tell you there was food stuck in your teeth? Or that a particular outfit is unflattering?

While I would hope my family and friends would truthfully point out the broccoli in my teeth or unflattering shirt, Lance explained that kind of communication wouldn’t happen across every culture.

Consider the Relationship

When we communicate with associates at work, it is generally to get a task done or convey important information. But it isn’t as simple as that. During any given communication, one must always consider the relationship.

Just as I count on family to tell me about food in my teeth, I count on colleagues to be transparent in our interactions so that we can complete projects and accomplish our goals. With that transparency however, comes the hard truths. Conversations that are vital to success, but potentially difficult to have.

Think with me for a moment; how likely is a trusted colleague to tell you a hard truth? On the other hand, how likely is a new hire to point out that same issue? And how likely is it for that new hire if you’re the boss? In my experience, there are only a handful of people with the gumption to speak up in that situation – and that’s in our culture, one where people are known to speak their mind.

Communicating Across Cultures

When communicating cross-culturally, the line grows even fuzzier.

Going back to the example of the unflattering shirt Lance introduced, many Asian cultures value the relationship higher than the task. As such, they would likely reassure you your shirt is just fine, especially if you were an Elder or Boss. Wear that same unflattering shirt in Europe, you’d be advised to change post haste because the task is of utmost importance. Then there are other areas, like in Latin America, where they try to find a balance between the relationship and the task, and you would likely be given a noncommittal answer on your shirt.

Not one approach is better than the other. They’re just different.

The Key Is Understanding

The key then is to understand how to navigate through these truths to come to the appropriate conclusion.

Looking at these cultural differences – or even those within our own corporate structures, we have to remember that there are communication differences that can affect the answers we get – even if we’re all speaking the same language.  We need to be aware of where our audience is coming from, how they communicate, and how they weigh the balance between tasks and relationships.

It’s this kind of insight that has made me an absolute fan of Vistage and their program.  It’s absolutely changed how I see and approach communication.  It’s as we implement these tools that our communication turns into 100% effective, allowing us to get the job done well while valuing our partners.

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