Let me tell you a short story about George.
George is a business development manager and that role requires him to acquire new customers frequently and persuade people to buy his products or services. He needs to frequently find arguments, prepare presentations, do his research in order to provide the results that his employer expects. George is a Brit. He has spend his whole life in one country, learnt various persuasive skills, participated in multiple workshops to practice his sales skills and he considers himself to be a specialist in this area. That’s why he was also asked by his employer to lead on growing the sales on another market — in Poland. “It is relatively close, just a 1,5-2 hours away by plane, still Europe. Ok, great! Should be fine. I’m in!” thought George.
What George didn’t predict is that all the skills that he’d learnt throughout his career in the UK will need to be adjusted to the culture he was working with. And so he made some mistakes before he realized what was going on. In his presentation to the first potential Polish client, for which he was obviously preparing very thoroughly for two weeks, he perfectly laid out his recommendations to the client, based on years of his experience, on various data he collated; he had a lot of very good arguments very neatly presented. When it came down to the Q&A part of the presentation, he was bombarded with questions like “How did you gather that data?” “How many people took the survey?” “How did you come to these conclusions?”. He didn’t prepare to answer questions about the data gathering and analysis process that were that detailed. Needless to say that he didn’t nail this deal.
In George’s story there was clearly a misalignment between what information the client was expecting from the presentation and what information did George provide. But why was it? We all know that George was preparing for the presentation, gathered and analysed data himself and really believed that it was a good deal for that client! The answer is: culture.
Meyer in her book gives a lot more examples similar to the above where people did their best considered the culture they were brought up in, but after being put in a slightly different environment the approaches that they used were not that effective any more. George’s story leads us to describing another scale of the Culture Map – the persuading scale.
The preferences of some cultures on that scale are not that explicit as with other dimensions, but in case of the UK and Poland, the difference is quite clearly visible.
The two dimensions of that scale are ‘Principles First’ and ‘Applications First’. In the first case, it is important to lay out the theory, back up documents or concepts before stating a conclusion, opinion or a recommendation. Before you make the final statement you need to present how you got there. In the Applications-First approach you are more likely to use an inductive reasoning, where you observe something or hypothesize and then present the arguments supporting your opinion.
US, Australia, UK or Netherlands fall pretty much on the far end on the Applications-first side of the scale. In business that usually means that you start a presentation or proposal with a bunch of bullet point statements where you mention the most important points of the presentation and conclusions and only then you move on to explaining the data behind those statements (often without the irrelevant details on how the data was gathered etc).
But hey, don’t forget about the relativity of the countries you are comparing. The bullets and conclusions first seem to be a thing from my perspective of a Polish person in the UK. If you look at a comparison of US and UK on the other hand, it might be that the UK seems very principles-based for an American as it is located more to the left of the scale. An American and Polish person might therefore have a very differing experience of the UK when they work in this country.
What I experienced when I moved to the UK is that the difference between what I was used to and what I needed to learn was huge. Even in an as simple thing as emails. From the very beginning of my education at school and then further on at university, most essays I needed to write or dissertations were based on the principles-first approach. You needed to tell the whole story, lay out the back up points, give all the necessary data and then come to a conclusion on the basis of the arguments you provided. This is also how I naturally started constructing emails when I first started working.
Let’s say I wanted someone’s help with a project but they didn’t know much about it yet. The structure of my email would look more or less like this:
– ‘Hello’ + purpose of writing an email.
– Brief description of the project I’m working on that I need help with
– The role that this person would potentially take on
– The timeline, mention of the upcoming meeting next week
– Final question: ‘Would you be willing to join us to work on this for the next two weeks? It would be great to have you on the team’
And it was working, people were responding to emails, no problem at all.
After coming here to the UK, it turned out that this approach was not the best one I could take. People were not that responsive to emails or at least a lot slower. There is a mixture of the country culture and the organisational culture that I work with I guess, but even when contacting external parties it seems like the structure that’s working here should be totally reversed, as in:
– Hello, hope you are well
– The main question of the email, so for example: ‘I’d like to quickly ask you if you would like to join our project for the next two weeks’
– Trying to schedule the next meeting: ‘We kick off next Monday at 10 am and would be great if you could join us’
– Moving on to the details: ‘Please find all the details about the project below’
And suddenly this approach seems to be more effective. A totally reversed structure than the one I was used to.
To be honest with you, I now kind of think that the latter is in general more effective in terms of actually conveying the message. Of course, it still might not work in more principles-first cultures, but from the effectiveness point of view, take a look at how thanks to this you can already by the first sentence tell whether you can join or not. If let’s say you’re going away for the next two weeks, after reading the first sentence you already can quickly respond that you’re sorry but you’re away and can’t join this time. Quick and efficient. In the first version of the email, you would need to read through all of the project details, maybe even get excited, to then at the end learn that the timeline totally doesn’t work for you. And you’ve just lost 5 minutes of your precious time to read through something you will not be able to engage with anyway. The applications-first approach makes sense to me in this case 🙂
As my natural style still tends to come into play when writing any kind of communication, I found out a way to make things easier for me. I write an email as I would normally do, principles-first, and then just move the last 1-2 sentences to the first line of my message. That way I don’t need to overthink the structure of my emails, think about the conclusion before I laid out all the arguments and it’s easier to me not to lose the plot when writing. It’s easier to do with emails than when presenting ad hoc, but if you’ve got a similar adjustment to deal with, try and always put some time in preparing to each presentation or take time to read through your emails before sending. It might be really helpful if you find yourself in a culture that differs from yours on a persuading scale.
Don’t ever take one method for granted. People in various parts of the world can be persuaded in various different ways which might not always match your default approach. Take time to observe how others do it and adjust to the new environment.
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