I’m subbing a stretch/relaxation class for a colleague on Thursday night. It’s not that I’m not qualified—AFAA certified group fitness instructor, former gymnast. I can do the stretches. It’s her format that seems completely foreign.
In a one hour class she only does like eight stretches…and then holds each stretch for 3-5 minutes—seriously, a single stretch quietly, patiently, relaxingly held…for 3-5 minutes.
OMG if we were to make the parallel to cultural communication styles, this is like a “type A” direct communicator having to “suffer” through someone who uses a more relational/story-telling style. (By the way, both styles are effective, just different). Or if you think of conversation pacing, another communication style that is influenced by culture, it’s like a culture that is used to overlapping sentences talking to a culture accustomed to letting others finish their sentences first…actually letting in a moment of silence linger before speaking!
There’s a book that my Jewish mom gave my Brazilian husband shortly after we were married (probably as a joke, although the first line of the book was “you let my mom take a cab from the airport?” “She said ‘don’t worry about me.’”) The best advice for my husband from the book was something to the effect of “by now you’ve had 20+ years to finish a sentence. Enough already! If no one interrupts you when you are talking then what you are saying is boring!”
But, the fact that I may be the only Jewish person in the room, or that my style is direct, fast-paced…whatever it is, it actually doesn’t matter—my job as the instructor (or for anyone working with clients, colleagues, family, whomever) is to adapt my style so that the CLASS enjoys the experience.
There’s a good parallel here to cultural competence-you have to be aware that there are different communication styles, you have to be aware of your own style as an option distinct from others (e.g. not yours as ‘the norm’) and you have to be able to adapt your own style to the situation or person before you for the best outcome.
Here are three tools I took to prepare for Thursday’s class, that might help you next time you are in a meeting or new situation and you find yourself thinking the others are crazy or doing it wrong because it’s not like you would do it:
- Ethnography—stop and watch before chiming in (or in this case, participate in the class as an observer first) Look and learn. How does the leader do it? How do the others respond? Observe and emulate.
- Self-Awareness—Watch your unconscious bias and be aware of your own assumptions going in. The more I realize this format is against my natural style, the more I can modulate myself and prepare for what the class is expecting.
- Prepare and Adapt—I can still be myself, but teaching a class or conducting business in a format or environment that is new takes more preparation. Draw from the skills you have and see which tactics will adapt best to the situation.
And, as always, seeing other perspectives, trying something new, can only give you new insights to inform what you are already doing, and hopefully (pretty much always) make it better.
What’s your style? Where have you had to modify or adapt to succeed?