At least 6 lessons children can teach us in communications

When working or living with small children, it always strikes me how communications is brought back to its basics. A 3 year old will certainly not engage in lengthy technical conversations with you (at least not from my experience, let me know if otherwise!).

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He/she will screen your face and figure out what you are really thinking and how he/she should react to what you are saying. You will possibly get a simple ‘why’ as a response, repeating itself as you are desperately trying to find answers to all the questions. You might even unintentionally make an angry face and try to say something nice; which might prompt the kid in front of you to be afraid or to scream and you would not even know why.

In short, for me, children are the best teachers. They will test you and hold up a mirror right in front of you, if you want it or not. So, here are at least 6 simple things that you can learn from them

  1. Communicate in a clear and simple manner; don’t spend time and effort to outline every little detail of your thought. Stick to the important parts of the message.
  2. Communicate not only verbally but using body language to stress what you are actually saying. Some cultures are pretty good at that; try it out for yourself!
  3. Be able to laugh about yourself: not only is laughing very healthy but it helps putting everything into the right perspective.
  4. Always question yourself ‘why’ before asking somebody to do something, it will bring clarity into your own thoughts, i.e. you might want to ask yourself if what you are asking is really a priority or if something else should rather be achieved.
  5. Listen attentively and with empathy or don’t listen at all; capture the key points of what is said and respond to these. Focus on the person you are listing to and not on what you would have to say about this topic. Other people might have an interesting opinion as well, so it is definitely worth listening.
  6. Be open and prepared for negative and positive feedback to what you are saying/the message you are conveying. Constructive feedback is your best bet; it will help you become even more efficient and productive.

Do you have any similar experiences you would want to share? Let me know!

Mindfulness Helps You Become a Better Leader

Mindfulness Helps You Become a Better Leader

Excellent article by by Bill George, professor of management practice at Harvard Business School and former chair and CEO of Medtronic, published by the HBR blog.

Addendum – About cultural types, European culture and intercultural competence

As an addendum to my last post on cultural types, European culture and intercultural competence I have at least to say a word about languages. With a smile I have to admit that thankfully nobody ever made me learn Esperanto[1]… what a funny thought that is: having one European common language. But: could a language really exist without having a cultural background? Interesting question indeed as in the common theories[2], language is determined by culture but culture also by language. It is true though that the more languages you speak the easier it gets when we speak about my particular domains of expertise at least which are communications, leadership and coaching. When being able to talk to your international team members in their language or to coach people in their language of origin, it truly makes a difference. Not only will you find that people open up easier but you are also not confronted to the barriers of communicating in a foreign language, as non-natives very often have difficulties to formulate their inner thoughts, worries or motivations in another language.

So, not only does a multicultural and multi-facet background give me access to intercultural skills but also the ability of speaking and thus being able to communicate in a variety of languages. This becomes very relevant when looking into emphatic listening[3] or mindful conversation[4] for example. If the ‘receiver’ of your message doesn’t understand what you actually mean and doesn’t ask (depending on the culture your interlocutor actually comes from, it might even be considered as rude to ask questions), the communication process will not function adequately resulting in misunderstandings and more.

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If you now apply this to digital means of communication like e-mail and such where it is even harder to communicate what you want to say – as you only have words and the tone of these to express yourself – plus you communicate in a language which is not your main one, you can imagine how difficult transmitting any message gets. From my experience, I honestly have to say that most of the problems arising in multicultural leadership/working teams stem from misunderstandings or misinterpretations from what has been originally said or demanded. In such an environment it is thus of crucial importance to pay particular attention to the original culture, language and behaviors of people so that a common ground for discussion and exchange can be found! And: I don’t think that Esperanto would have solved these problems J


[1] Please see Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Esperanto for reading more about what Esperanto is!

[2] See for example this excellent article in the Wall Street Journal “Lost in translation”: http://tinyurl.com/2bmmtfd or this link on language and culture: http://tinyurl.com/9pt2ldz

[3] As explained in my blog entry on ‘the power of listening’ for example.

[4] According to Chade-Meng Tan, mindful conversation consits of three components : listening, looping and dipping. See his book “Search Inside Yourself” p. 60-62.

About cultural types, European culture and intercultural competence

ImageLooking again at the Lewis Model of Cultural types[1] or at any other definition and model of culture, I cannot help asking myself, into which category I would actually fall. This is quite a funny question as I grew up in Belgium, went to a European School, have German parents, lived in different countries and continents and now call Switzerland my home. Can I consider myself more as a Belgian because my roots are there (and not only because I like strong beer), or should it be more as a German as I like things to be organised and clear, or could it even be European, although there is no such category… for most of the people I know, things are clear: when football (soccer) championships are on, they know exactly which team or which country to support; when the Olympics or Paralympics are on TV, it is very clear who has to bring home most medals. For me, nothing is clear. As long as I can think, this has always caused some confusion; for example as a student when watching the Eurovision contest with other nationalities. Whereas everybody was eager to see their own country win, I was rather clueless and decided instead to morally ‘support’ the musicians who seemed to have the best chances to win.

For some people this situation might seem rather strange, for some others quite common, always depending on their own background. For me, it has the effect of feeling like a chameleon, ‘changing colour’ whenever necessary and fitting into any environment. But: is there something like a European Culture as opposed to a North-American or any other culture? Searching on the Internet as well as on different pages from the European Commission and the UN, although “European Culture” is mentioned very often, nobody really seems to know what it actually means and views differ.[2] This is indeed very interesting because our world becomes more and more global, people also become more and more mobile and study/work abroad but at the same time roots are more important than ever and the country of origin (in many cases the nationality) is the place where a deep feeling of belonging is connected to.

Whereas ‘belonging to Europe’ or more precisely ‘Western Europe’ is not really something precise and does not help me with identifying into which “type of culture” category I fall into, one thing is for sure: whatever it is that I come with, gives me access to the three dimensions of intercultural competence – affective, cognitive and communicative behavioural – as discussed in my last blog entry.[3] It is true that by growing up with a multitude of languages and people of different nationalities, I see my capacity of being emphatic, free of prejudice and stereotypes, understanding intercultural communication processes and building up social competencies enhanced. Well, being a mindful leader working in a multicultural environment, this is actually of outmost importance for what I do and what I believe in. And, who knows: maybe some high ranking official will ‘invent’ a European Passport one day… I am ready! And until that day arrives: I actually like being a chameleon.


[1] See the Lewis Model: http://www.crossculture.com/services/cross-culture/ for example

[2] Compare for example the Special Eurobarometer 278: European Cultural Values, page 63 onwards.

[3] See “Mindful leadership in a multicultural environment – Part III”

Mindful leadership in a multicultural environment – Part III

Jenny Ebermann | Communications | Services

Jenny Ebermann | Communications | Services

This article looks into the difference between intercultural coaching versus coaching in an intercultural management environment and highlights the difference between measures on the job and measures off the job.

Intercultural coaching has: “(…) the same basic tenets as standard professional coaching but also takes into consideration the coachee’s cultural perspective, and those of the people around him/her. It focuses on creating an ‘intercultural climate’ that allows the coach and coachee to become more culturally aware and adapt their behaviour and expectations as appropriate.”[1] Intercultural coaching is in so far not that different from ‘usual’ coaching, the prerequisite being that the coach has ‘intercultural competences’. These competences are described in the literature as usually having three dimensions: affective, cognitive and communicative behavioural.[2] The first one, comprises for example self-confidence, flexibility, tolerance etc.; the second one refers to how individuals understand and manage cultural differences, specificities of cultural communication processes etc.; the third dimension describes the ability to display appropriate cultural behaviour and related social competences.

Intercultural coaching as such usually takes place on-the-job, tackling work environment specific topics and questions. Multicultural teams are supervised and accompanied in order to make them aware of specific behaviours related to their culture of origin as well as to identify synergies and to work on problem areas.

Compared to ‘on-the-job’ measures, there are several other human resource development methods related to intercultural topics, such as intercultural consulting or intercultural training, which are referred to as being ‘off-the-job’.[3] The first one is normally sought by companies who are not sure yet which concrete measures and tools would be the most appropriate to their particular situation. They then hire external consultants to analyse the circumstances and to come back with a solution. Intercultural trainings are normally for people who are about to be sent to a foreign work environment in order to prepare them cognitively to the new culture, habits and thought processes.

Coaching in an intercultural management environment finally, is a coaching that takes place in a multicultural setting, but where the main purpose and aim of the sessions does not have to be related to the improvement of intercultural competency per se. It also means that different nationalities have to be coached and accompanied in a different way, as we cannot assume that the same techniques or exercises will work with all types of coachees. As explained in part II of this article, there are various types of cultures[4] all necessitating a thoughtful and differentiated approach.

But why could the above be important for a mindful leader? Well, as I have explained in a previous post, mindfulness requires among others, the mental quality of ‘non-judging’[5]. If as a leader, and as many of us do, you have to interact, work and lead in a multicultural, global environment, possessing intercultural competence and being aware of the impact of your own culture on your behaviours, you will have much more success as you will be able to actually leverage synergies as well as to avoid problems/misunderstandings before they even arise.

If this article (parts I-III) has raised questions and you would like to talk about these, don’t hesitate to contact me! Looking forward to hearing from you…!


[1] Kate Griffin and Richard Cook: Intercultural Coaching the next big thing; Internet: http://www.sietar.org.uk/publications

[2] See for example: J. Bolten or Gertsen 1990

[3] Translated from J. Bolten: “Interkulturelles Coaching, Mediation, Training und Consulting als Aufgaben des Personalmanagements internationaler Unternehmen”, p.3.

[4] See the Lewis Model: http://www.crossculture.com/services/cross-culture/ for example

[5] See my article entitled: ‘Planting the seeds for Mindfulness’ on this blog.