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Communication challenges in diverse teams

Updated: Oct 14, 2020

Communication styles differ from person to person. The reason may vary from ethnic background, to upbringing and personality styles. When in a corporate environment, all these styles tend to collide and some voices are heard while others never get the opportunity to even be expressed.

Most people are categorized into either introverts, extroverts or ambiverts. The way these three kinds of people function and interact in a professional setting is something that has fascinated me for years. Statistically, extroverts tend to find it easier to make connections in any social situation which helps them vocalize their thoughts more comfortably. Introverts tend to not be so open with their ideas and keep more to themselves. Ambiverts fall somewhere in the middle and have characteristics that stretch from both ends of the spectrum.

All these approaches shape the way they work together and solve problems. As a leader, I often find myself having to shift my perspective depending on who I am talking to. I have to shift focus to see how I am being communicated with and make sure I am receptive to every form of it. I have seen so many colleagues who are brilliant minded individuals but their contributions to projects go completely unnoticed because they never bring light to how they have impacted it and what hard work they have done to make it all possible. They tend to be very shy when it comes to receiving recognition or even being put in the spotlight for simple things. The value they add to a project or an initiative goes entirely unnoticed due to this.

On the contrary, a popular Chinese saying states that “one is bound to have a slip of tongue if he talks too much” which loosely translates to saying that it is better to talk less in general. I remember my own father used to say, “don't trust a man who talks more than he listens.” Although this advice made sense to me at the time, I have since changed from that style of communication but as I reflect on the diverse levels of expression in my colleagues when they are handed a task or land in a situation, they don’t even remotely think the same way I do. A fellow colleague of mine who, since a young age has shown a lot of intellectual prowess in every aspect of education, was raised to believe that keeping herself quiet and accomplishing things privately was the way to marry into a good family and have a good future - that speaking out on anything would not reflect properly on her family or upbringing. Since that age, she has always kept her thoughts to herself and carried on quietly.

Now she works in corporate America and struggles to change her ways from what she’s always known to be true. In the western world where the culture says “speak up, we want to hear your voice,” how do we push people like her to feel more comfortable with articulating their own perspectives in high detail? I want these people to also gain recognition and be valued for their work. It is not uncommon to see people who have an easier time speaking up and showing what they know to move up the ladder and become leaders more quickly. Do they actually have the technical caliber to be considered an expert and lead properly? What about this woman who has all the knowledge and skills to lead tremendously well, but naturally has trained herself to be a person of reserved nature? How do we cultivate a sense of leadership in these people and put them in a position where they are fit to shine?

These are all questions we should be asking ourselves as leaders in our field to further push the envelope, and step back to see how we can enhance ourselves to bring the best out in our peers while working together. Paying attention to detail in how one communicates and should be communicated with will change your view on all relationships, personal and professional. I encourage you all to put yourselves in the shoes of the people who are trying to make an impact and see the world through their eyes, without needing to say too much...

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