Newsletter 642 – Connecting Across Cultural and Age Barriers

baguette 14Last week’s newsletter brought this thoughtful response from Sheryl Bullock who is a life coach: I am not particularly good at crossing cultural and age barriers to develop relationships with others. I would love to hear your stories about the people you mentioned…. What questions did you ask them initially? How did they respond? At what point did you know you had made a good connection with them? …There is a huge need for this information. People love stories and I think you still have many to tell!

Here are some observations that I’ve had to this point:

  • Ask God to lead. Sometimes when I will go into a church service, fitness club or restaurant I ask God to open a conversation that might be of value. The previous post mentioned friendships arising from casual conversations with a grocery checker, a waiter, and a stranger at a conference book table. These contacts seemed to arise spontaneously. Did they? Be available and you will be connected.
  • Cultivate the attitudes that characterize all good cross-cultural conversations: Be friendly, sensitive, willing to learn, respectful, authentic, not paternalistic (looking down on others), flexible. It’s amazing how people respond positively to attitudes like these.
  • Resist your biases. (We all have them). If you disapprove of people who differ from you, this will be picked up quickly. That stifles connectivity.
  • Express genuine interest in others. Ask open-ended questions. Then listen. Recently my wife and I moved into a condo community where we didn’t know anybody. Doors have opened with statements like “Hi, my name is Gary and we’re new here. Tell us about you.” Ask others about themselves and they usually respond. This works with visitors to your church, for example, with people you meet in the fitness club, or even with busboys who pick up your restaurant dishes.
  • Respect boundaries by avoiding personal questions or asking about confidential information.
  • Expect that some people won’t respond to your overtures. This may reflect shyness, discomfort with your friendliness, or cultural differences. What works where I live will need to be adapted elsewhere.

Previously I mentioned a good friend who is French. He jokes that his countrymen are like baguette bread: hard on the outside but very soft once you get past the crust. This takes time, patience, and sensitivity but the benefits are great. How have you connected across age and cultural gaps? Please comment.

Newsletter 621 – Should We All Be Translators?

Kaslow 2If the title of this newsletter sounds dull, please keep reading, at least this paragraph. Exactly one year ago Nadine Kaslow, then-president of the American Psychological Association, gave a talk titled “Translating Psychological Science to the Public” (published in American Psychologist, July-August, 2015 issue.) Dr. Kaslow makes a compelling and engaging case that applies whatever your area of expertise and interest. Too often we talk with like-minded colleagues and rarely attempt to translate what we know to outsiders in other fields.

 As coaches, pastors, professors, or leaders of any other specialties, how do we communicate and impact people outside of our own specialties? Much of my work has involved translating practical findings from psychology to non-psychologists, including ministry leaders who lack up-to-date training in psychology or counseling. This newsletter/blog is a translation piece, converting information from selected articles or books into language and summaries that might be of value to others. We all know Christian leaders who seek to translate basic theological concepts into words that reach people who otherwise might be uninterested. Here are some of Kaslow’s conclusions geared for psychologists but with far broader implications:

  • Translation means conveying some message “in a comprehensible, memorable, and relevant manner so the audience appreciates what it means and what difference [the information or message] makes.”
  • To whom do we translate? It depends on our message. For example, it may be relevant to various professionals, policymakers, students, therapy patients/clients, or the general public.
  • How do we translate? Be succinct, accurate, and with writing that holds interest and anticipates how recipients may respond to the message.
  • What methods do we use? Obviously utilize articles, books, and traditional media like magazines, verbal presentations, radio and television. But focus too on using websites and social media. Many people are best reached through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, podcasts and other channels including, of course, blogs. And don’t overlook the arts, museums, or public education campaigns.
  • What gets in the way? First, common attitudes, especially in professionals or academic circles where there is concern about inaccuracies or disdain of “popularizers” who may even be devalued professionally if they produce anything for popular audiences. Second, logistical barriers in those who don’t know how to reach beyond their own fields. One example, do you know how to get a magazine article or popular book published?

Thanks for reading beyond the first paragraph above. Now please leave a comment about your translating.

Newsletter 618 – A Genuinely Fresh New Perspective on Leadership

Team of Teams 2New leadership books appear almost every week. But it’s unique and refreshing to read a new, in-depth voluMcChrystal 3me, based on both experience and research, setting a new paradigm for leadership in the twenty-first century. Such is the new book by General Stanley McChrystal, former commander of all American and coalition forces in Afghanistan. Co-authored with two former U.S Navy SEAL officers and a very articulate scholar currently at Cambridge University, this book describes how old models of leadership, popular and successful for centuries, have been forced to change in an era of instant Internet communication and terrorist tactics. The book describes how the military has needed to change but demonstrates how these changes must apply equally to corporations, professions like medicine, organizations and anyplace else where leadership occurs.

This book is too rich, innovative and stimulating to summarize in a few sentences. Here is the background: McChrystal was put in command of what undoubtedly was one of the best-trained and disciplined military forces ever assembled. But the enemy terrorists kept winning, manned with relatively untrained individuals and small groups who appeared from nowhere to blow up shopping malls, military installations, schools and other targets. Then these perpetrators would be gone. They had mastered the use of free and accessible technology to communicate instantly before they died or disappeared. Almost overnight the elements of warfare that McChrystal learned in the military academy were largely powerless against a new kind of cyber-sophisticated and connected enemy. Especially irrelevant was the old micromanagement and chain of command that defined the military and still dominates so much of our culture.

As I read I thought of leadership in higher education and adult learning, including ministry and counselor education. So-called leaders still micromanage, set visions and expect others to comply, follow the rigid innovative-squelching guidelines of accrediting agencies, and fail to see that a new technological age requires new methods, skills and leadership. This is reflected in the title of the book by McChrystal and his colleagues: Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World. Commands and guidelines from the top of a hierarchy are too slow. Models for counseling, ministry or coaching don’t always work. Individuals, teams and groups of teams throughout the system must be equipped and empowered to make quick decisions on their own. They need a new kind of leadership.

Have any of you read this new book? Even if you have not, please comment.

To hear an interview with General McChrystal go to: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/24529530/TFS_M4_Stanley.mp3

Newsletter 585 – The Significance of Millennials

This week I read an interview with Bill Marriott, CEO of the hotel business that carries his family name. Now 82, Marriott is looking ahead, committed to launching a new hotel chain aimed at the so-called millennial generation, (people born in 1980 or after, now ages 18-33). In four years an estimated 60% of Marriott’s business will be geared for Millennials, with room features and amenities largely designed with input from people in the target group.

Millennials 1Scientifically valid research shows that this group is forsaking religious institutions in droves. Young adult Evangelicals, traditional Protestants, Catholics, Jews, and Muslims are all leaving their faith traditions and few seem interested in coming back. The challenge of adapting and connecting across generations applies as well to colleges, professions, counselors, and businesses, including hotels.

Literally for centuries younger generations have been misunderstood and criticized by those who are older. Time magazine once did a cover story on Millennials with the biased headline “Me, Me, Me Generation.” Isn’t that equally true of other generations? Much better is the current issue of CT (July/August 2014) that focuses on how many Millennials are leading the church. Here are randomly-chosen practical conclusions, some from the magazine:

  • Connecting with Millennials takes more than a coffee shop or hip place to hang out. They want involvement and responsibility. Too many who come to churches feel unwanted and not needed .
  • This generation longs for face-to-face interpersonal interaction more because so much of their interaction is online. They value community and spontaneity.
  • Like other generations, Millennials don’t like to be stereotyped. They want to be accepted and appreciated for who they are.
  • Many are spiritually starved but they want in-depth spiritual experiences, knowledge, and opportunity for discussion without being manipulated or forced into some theological or denominational mold.
  • Many Millennials are heavily involved in service to others. Many want to be successful in the arts, technology, business, and other careers. But they are less concerned about money, prominence or power.
  • They are not opposed to interaction with older mentors who respect them as they are and don’t try to imitate or look like them.
  • From a personal perspective, I have several twenty-something close friends. We appreciate, enjoy, accept and learn from each other.

What is your experience with Millennials? Please comment.

Newsletter 562 – Start Something that Matters

 

Toms Shoes 2 Several years ago I met and talked briefly with Blake Mycoskie. You may not recognize his name but probably you’ve heard of TOMS shoes. In 2006, Blake was twenty-nine, already successful as a businessman and able to take time for a vacation trip to Argentina. While there he started wearing casual canvas shoes known as alpargatas and wondered, in passing, if something similar could have market appeal in the United States. In a café one day he learned about poor communities where children had no shoes at all and, as a result, were exposed to a variety of diseases and inconveniences, like not being able to walk to school. Some Americans were collecting used shoes but often these didn’t fit and when the kids grew they were barefoot again. Eventually, Blake got the idea of producing sturdier versions of the alparaga, forming a for-profit company, then giving away one pair of shoes for every pair sold. Hoping that these could provide a better future for the poor kids he’d met, Blake called them “tomorrow’s Shoes” abbreviated TOMS. You can read more in Blake’s 2012 book Start Something that Matters.

I don’t know why this book sat on my shelf for so long before I read it last week. It became a #1 New York Times best seller, perhaps because it’s so practical, engaging, and built on a business model that’s more about finding purpose in life than just making money, getting noticed, or being successful. Here are highlights among others that apply to any of us:

  • Find your own story then tell others. Like Blake, if you keep your eyes open you might find that your purpose, niche and calling appears right before your eyes.
  • Face your fears. Starting something new is scary. Expect mistakes. Ask yourself who encourages you. Where is God in this?
  • Keep things simple. “Complicated lives and heaps of stuff don’t necessarily bring happiness [or success]; they often bring the opposite.”
  • Build trust – so people trust you. In turn, trust others and give credit where credit is due.
  • In whatever you do, build a mentality of giving.

I’m giving this book to several of my friends. Not surprising: for every book purchased, Blake and his publisher give books to kids who are learning to read. What do you think? Please comment.

Newsletter #503 – Why Care About Culture?

In response to an earlier newsletter, Ruedi Giezendanner referred me to a fascinating article with a long title, “Cross-Cultural Mentoring: A Brief Comparison of Individualistic and Collectivist Cultures.”

The author, Sunny Hong, reminds us of the differences between individualistic cultures that value individual uniqueness, independence and equality, in contrast to collectivistic cultures where group goals are more important and where there are more firmly defined social distinctions and expectations. Of course there are wide differences between people within any one culture but Western countries (especially the United States) are individualistic in comparison to the collectivistic mindset of Eastern countries including Japan, Korea and China.

Hong focuses on mentoring but her conclusions apply equally to coaching, counseling, leadership, teaching, ministry and broader social relationships. These issues were never mentioned (or perhaps never recognized) in my training as a counselor. My coaching instructors insisted that the principles of coaching apply universally, without need for adaptation. But try taking an individualistic mindset into a collectivistic culture and there can be misunderstandings and communication failures. More harm than good can follow when culturally-insensitive business people, diplomats, missionaries, relief workers and mission trip participants go abroad without awareness of cultural perspectives and differences. This applies in work with neighborhood minorities as well as internationally. Mentoring or coaching in an individualistic culture seeks to help others grow professionally by setting goals and developing ways to fulfill personal visions. This is like parenting where children grow up, leave home and don’t seek further parental advice. In collectivistic settings, coaches or mentors are respected and knowledge-filled gurus or teachers who continue to retain authority and provide wise answers on a more permanent basis. Individual initiative and self-motivation are not valued.

According to Hong’s article, when there are differing expectations and assumptions regarding the purpose of mentoring [or coaching], there often is confusion and misunderstanding for both parties. Cross-cultural people-helping also can be unproductive when there are different views about goals, responsibilities, the meaning of success, boundaries, power, privacy, respect for time, transparency, self-disclosure, and feedback, among others. Before you decide to teach, coach, counsel or lead in other cultures, consider reading Hong’s article. And please comment or share your experiences. Is all of this as important as I am suggesting?

Newsletter #502 – Do You Still Have Time to Change the World?

Have you noticed how some politicians become statesmen following their years in office? Bill Clinton was controversial when he was president but he seems to be turning into one of our better ex-presidents. In a Time magazine cover article (October 1, 2012) Clinton shares reasons for his optimism that the world is getting better. He describes the  work of CGI, the Clinton Global Initiative. Thus far it has distributed almost $70 billion and last month brought together Barak and Michelle Obama, Mitt Romney, the new presidents of Libya and Egypt, plus 50 additional current or former heads of state and others committed to improving world conditions.

Clinton identifies and documents progress in five areas where there has been “concrete, measurable and reproducible” progress:

  1. Cell phones bringing freedom. Clinton writes that technology opens communication and fosters equality. He cites research showing that “cell phones are one of the most effective advancements in history to lift people out of poverty.”
  2. Healthy communities that prosper.  Examples show how major health crises are being combatted and averted in Haiti, Africa and elsewhere.
  3. Green energy that equals good business.
  4. Increased women’s’ roles stimulating productivity. “No society can truly flourish if it stifles the dreams and productivity of half its population…. It’s been proven that women tend to reinvest economic gains back into their families and communities more than men do.”
  5. A future perspective that encourages progress. Ponder this: “We have to define the meaning of our lives as something other than our ability to control someone else’s.”

How does this relate to us or to the people we work with? Younger people seem more motivated to make a difference in the world but shouldn’t this concern everybody, regardless of age or circumstances? Might God have a purpose for putting each of us here, at this time, in the places where we live? Couldn’t we make a difference in our worlds even without the international contacts or funds to replicate what CGI seeks to accomplish?

Please ask yourself, “At this place in life what can I do, however small, to make a lasting difference?” Others can sharpen your vision and help you take action. As long as you’re alive there is time to change the world. Please leave a comment.