The three colors of worldview are the first thing we look at when are about to communicate across cultures. If you haven't already, you should read our introduction to the Three Colors of Worldview.
One story that shows how significant it can be to package your message with the Three Colors of Worldview in mind has to do with the marketing director of a national-owned company in the Middle East.
A Competent Marketing Director
This marketing director was asked to work on a marketing plan, with a budget of anywhere from three to ten million dollars per year.
She was incredibly professional, well versed in marketing for emerging market economies, had experience across the board, and a great research team. She came up with three powerful marketing packages at different price-points within her budget, and presented the pros and cons of each package, the market impact, and what it would mean in terms of potential revenue generated through the campaigns at a meeting with the owners.
A Guilt/Innocence Approach to Presentation
She used a very good classical approach, by the book: "Here are the options, this is why one option is right, here is why one option is less right," and eventually, recommended to the owners the best package at the best value for money.
However, she did not ask herself the question, "What will the owners of the business hear when I present this. How will they translate what I am saying and what I'm presenting?" And the presentation she gave was very guilt-innocence oriented.
When Intercultural Communication Goes WrongThe owners listened to her presentation purely from an honor/shame perspective, with a little bit of power-fear perspective. As they were listening to her, they didn't hear the deductive reasoning, cause and effect thinking, and critical analysis that accompany a guilt-innocence perspective presentation; they didn't hear how she systematically went through all the options, the pro's and cons, the best option, best value. But what they did hear did not reflect well on her.
From an honor/shame perspective, each time she said “This is what we have come up with, this is what the data indicates. . .” she was building up her team, giving honor to herself. What they started to think was, "She is trying to sell us the option that will enhance her honor, and her power base in our organization, and has not paid any attention in this presentation to our honor or our power base in our organization."
As the meeting progressed, the owners got more and more frustrated and more and more suspicious of her because they felt that she was trying to sell them a package that built her own empire without honoring them.
As a result of that meeting, this incredibly professional marketing director was fired. Later on, when we debriefed with her, she recognized that although she had excellent data and presented it well, she still needed to ask, "How can I share the story of these different packages in such a way that the owners understand how much honor and power each one of these packages build into the company; into their family?”
How to Manage Stakeholders Across Cultures
In order to communicate effectively in intercultural situations, you need to understand what worldview you are coming from, and what worldview your stakeholders hold to. When you know first that you need to communicate with their worldview in mind and how to translate the benefits from your worldview to theirs, you can move forward confident that your hard work and expertise will pay off.
Sometimes, this is easy to do: the market impact and revenue potential that this marketing director presented on can be translated into terms of honor and power, and presented in terms of what kind of honor and power it will give the owners. But if you don’t know what needs translating, or what your target is supposed to be, you can be easily blindsided. Communication is not about saying the right thing – it's about the right thing being understood.
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