A popular interpretation of this ancient (Mandarin) Chinese symbol is 'listening with the heart'. In modern U.S. vernacular, this concept is similar to emotional intelligence. Here's why TING is essential to my business.
1. Ting optimizes understanding According to researchers, we glean half of the content of personal communication from unspoken messages. Ears, eyes and mind are the most obvious pathways. Listening with the heart takes longer but yields important information, about the speaker’s body language and your reaction to it.
A new client once wrote me a bad check. In hindsight, I had a feeling it would bounce, and he knew this to be the case. We exchanged pleasantries nonetheless, ignoring the most important issue at hand. He said the right words but his hesitancy told me otherwise.
Gavin De Becker researches and writes in great detail about the body's primal wisdom in, 'The Gift of Fear'. His theme is larger than day to day communication– personal safety. De Becker sites numerous examples of women who are threatened, harmed or worse, because they ignored their innate, subconscious alarm system. De Becker tells women to trust their instincts without question– it can save our lives.
2. Slow down to reach people with different learning styles
TING reminds me to consider how learning styles impact communication. You know ‘tone deaf’ people and organizations–they’re more verbal/auditory and hierarchical. Two-way dialogue sets the stage for sharing power. As receivers, they filter information first and foremost through ego. Subtexts and subtlety may escape them. They physically say the right words, but their bodies (via actions or policies) don’t back up the message.
Context is also key. For example, take the popular ‘Punctuation Saves Lives’ meme. Here, a humble comma prevents murder and cannibalism, “Let’s eat Grandma!” versus “Let’s eat, Grandma!”. If you were in the room, it would be obvious which scenario was about to unfold, regardless of grammar.
When it comes to reaching heart and body communicators, small adjustments can crack open a door to invite those who listen differently and fully. This is especially true with English Language Learners (ELL), and marginalized groups.
It's also the first step towards building trust.
The answer depends on many factors- and your preference is only one of them.
Websites used to be the foundation of an online presence- social media was like frosting on the cake. Over time, it's risen in popularity and functionality to a point where some businesses don't even need a website- in the same way that mobile has squashed the idea that a 'real' business requires brick and mortar.
Ideally, there's a strategy behind your efforts- one that's congruent with other all marketing collateral. Determining if and how actively social you want to be is an opportunity to reaching customers where they are. The bottom line is figuring out what works for your business.
It takes time to be 'social'
The number of platforms to choose from is daunting. The popular standards used in your personal life may not be appropriate. Plus, they can rise, fall or disappear mysteriously- sort of like a flash mob.
It's seductively simply to get started. The real work is in generating content. This is a costly process, especially for small businesses that lack resources to delegate this task to a single department or employee.
One size fits all solutions- don't
Experts recommend choosing fewer platforms you can cover well. This gives you a wide enough bandwidth to be meaningful but narrow enough to track results and measure the value of your investment.
Facebook is increasingly a 'must' for most businesses. But its mainstream acceptance seems to have spurred some market segments on to new platforms. Once the basic platforms are covered, sector or generational niches are worth a closer look.
Social media may be essential but posting doesn't guarantee profits. Think about your 'costs' you two ways:
Social media can help you reach highly specific markets. We're producing a fashion show of couture modest women's wear in Redmond. It includes designers from Indonesia and Saudi Arabia. Our campaign strategy is two-prong: platforms used by Arabic-speaking, global thinking, young adults and direct contact with their mothers. (Learn more at www.malikahfestival.com).
Don't overlook face time and word-of-mouth
Karyn Greenstreet, (www.passionforbusiness.com), surveys small business owners on the efficacy of B2B content marketing and lead generation. She found that, while social media, (other than blogs) was the top technique used, it didn't make the top 10 most effective ones, (i.e. money in the bank).
You may 'live social', but some businesses thrive without it. These outliers usually share one or more of these characteristics:
Businesses that thrive without being 'social'
I recently met a sculptor at the farmer's market who makes lovely iron gates. "What's your website?", I asked, smart phone in hand.
"Don't have one, don't need one", he responded, handing me a card with a phone number and no email address. This business exists through face time, texting and voice.
I know a few owners like him. Word-of-mouth drives their success. Instead of spending hours hunched over a computer or phone, they're in front of customers.
My favorite example is a booming business that sews expensive, hipster blue jeans on site. They have a minimal website, erratic hours and discourage women from placing orders, (too curvy?). When asked if they wanted to join a local chamber the owner said, "Oh, please don't list us- we're too busy already".
What's the right mix for your business? As with most communication challenges, the answer is, "it depends".
Regional differences help us connect to more people and cultures
A psychologist and recent transplant from L.A. was complaining about her slow and manipulative new Seattle colleagues.
I used to share her opinions. But, after 25 years of living here, I reacted to this tired rant with eyeball rolls and East Coast push-back. The classic Northwest style is frustrating if you'd rather 'cut to the chase'. Yes, we tend to avoid emotions, conflict and a clear decision-making process.
Maybe we're just waiting for an extroverted fool to speak up.
Where do these values come from? Before moving here, I spend a month exploring Scandinavia. My guidebook stated that in these nations, the ultimate insult was one delivered with such subtlety the receiver wasn't offended. This requires thought and restraint.
When I first moved to Seattle, a few times people stopped me on the street to ask if I was in the theater profession. Perhaps I was wearing bright clothes or gesticulating. It was delightful to see others hang back and yield the floor. I enjoyed taking command and dominating conversations, thinking this was leadership.
I was curious and careful when interacting outside of my obvious culture zones, assuming I could 'read' people who looked just like me. Eventually, I realized the damage my carelessness had caused. Credibility was tough to win back.
Yet, it's simplistic and Eurocentric to give Scandinavians all the credit for the finesse we pride ourselves on. Native American Asians populated the Northwest long before my forbears*. I've learned much from these traditions, such as:
One model for understanding communication style differences is low context versus high context cultures, which was introduced by the anthropologist Edward T. Hall, in his 1976 book, Beyond Culture. Hall's approach can be broadly applied to communications between gender, class, national or ethnic culture, and subcultures, (such as LGBT).
Here's my oversimplified take on his work:
High-context cultures use fewer words but place more value on them. They rely on 'in-groups' and subtext to fill in the blanks. Think about all that's unspoken yet clearly understood by Downton Abbey's characters. Groups relying on low-context cultural norms use more explicit communication, but place less emphasis on specific words. Shirley McClaine's portrayal as Cora Crawley's loud, obnoxious American mother nails it.
I think of high/low context as two poles, Collectivism and Individualism, which we move between constantly. The Yin/Yang symbol keeps these concepts top of mind- reminding me to welcome opposite views and listen half of the time. Two halves make a whole, one half creates a hole.
The "Northwest No" used to frustrate me. Now, I see it as a flag and slow down. Maybe we don't get as much done is Seattle, but it's certainly more pleasant.
*These are all good examples of high context cultures.
A seasoned college professor, whom I'll call Mr. Al, was venting about visiting students from traditional countries.
Al knows that gender separation is important in some cultures; especially for single men and women. He also uses interactive learning techniques; and this includes small working groups.
A savvy instructor who 'values diversity', at the start of the semester he'd asked the class if anyone objected to working on mixed gender teams. No one raised a hand. With goals of getting students to mingle, and foreign students to practice their English, Al assigned a young husband and wife from Saudi Arabia to different groups for a project.
However, over the next few months and despite obvious intelligence, they both floundered on assignments that involved working directly with men and women team members.
Mr. Al first pulled each of them aside to talk privately in his office. Next, he convened a meeting between the three of them to troubleshoot the problem. At all three meetings, the students were polite, thanked and assured him that everything was fine- and continued to perform poorly on group projects.
By the time I was consulted, Mr. Al was frustrated and angry. He felt tricked, now assumed the Saudi woman was oppressed by her "controlling" husband, and saw a need to "liberate" her. He also confided some ugly, completely unfounded assumptions about the husband's potential for domestic violence and the wife's subservience.
I struggled to conceal my alarm over the fact that he works with the general public. Yet, I also saw a 'teachable moment'. First, I gently expressed my concern about his racist attitude. He was surprised, but didn't get defensive.
This Blog only attempts to address the more straight forward Communications Style aspect of the problem. What went wrong? Who was at fault? Whats the solution?
As a Communications Strategist, I challenged Al's assumptions and offered these three tips:
1. Know your dominant communication style and recognize that it's not the only one
Al favors a typical U.S. American, direct approach. He knew from experience this might be a sensitive issue. Yet, when the situation clearly went sideways, Al didn't try a different or more nuanced strategy. He became more direct; possibly adding insult to embarrassment.
2. Accept the fact that values drive people's priorities
Egalitarianism (real or ideal), is a cherished American goal. Respect for authority and elders, (especially in an educational setting), maintaining propriety (between genders), and 'saving face' may have mattered more to these students than high marks. One might argue the couple went to great lengths to show respect towards Mr. Al.
3. Be patient, curious and assume positive intentions
Al's response was the simplistic rant: "But they're in our country, they should act like us!" Students are clients. Part of his job is to understand them better. Compromises and solutions tend to arise when people feel heard and respected.
Call Lee Mozena to learn more about communication styles and working with people from traditional cultures, using the Cultural Detective® program.