Recently, a participant in a training session shared with me that the US counterparts are extending meetings without asking for permission. After sharing that, I was asked, "How can we refuse extending meeting times?"
This question is not easy to answer because it could depend on many things. Firstly, why does the US Client think they need more time?
Reasons Clients May Want to Extend Meeting Times
Typically, the US client would also not want to extend the meeting. They also have other meetings to get to. Naturally, they also would feel irritated or anxious to get back to their work. Let's put ourselves in their shoes. What compels a client to need more time to meet?
Again, as you brainstorm this based on your team requirements and make-up, you may come up with many good ideas. In addition to these ideas, is anyone on your team willing or brave enough to ask the US client why* they are asking meetings to be extended?
Americans like direct communication, and a question like this if posed right can open discussion as to how both sides can communicate more clearly with each other.
Other Team Consultations Have Shown
In a few other teams I have consulted in, a common reason clients ask for (or seem to demand) more time, is that they feel that the messages haven't been communicated fully yet. Though the Indian team has talked a lot and given a lot of information, the following problems happen in delivering the information:
- The agenda is not clear
- Team members are not all communicating clearly within that agenda
- Team members repeat what each other has already said
- Some team members appear not to be filled in on what is happening on their own team
- The US team feels a lack of coordination and clear communication within the India team
- The messages given to the US side lack organization, brevity and key convincing elements
- The India team talks a lot, but gives more background, tells more stories than facts
- The US team is not clear on who is taking initiative (no names are used)
- India team members often say 'I don't know', rather than passing the conversation to someone who knows
- Meetings do not start on time, equipment problems
- Language used is not clear
- Business outcomes are not clear
- India team shares mistakes and problems matter-of-factly, and without justification, possible solutions or empathy
- ... and many more can be identified
A Problem in Cross-Cultural Expectations
As many Americans want to control their time, their mindsets from a young age force them to think in process, build on conversations within the same call and between calls and talk about status reports in short bite-size chunks. Americans tend to plan meetings in short 10-15 minute chunks. Hence, agendas and preparation ahead of the meeting time tend to keep people on track to complete each agenda point within a particular amount of time. All critical information is conveyed in a brief way, without extraneous details and too much background information in a convincing way. Yes, this is still a skill for Americans, and many take time to prepare their messages before meetings. Over a period of time, these behaviors become habits and only need to be given a lot more preparation time in times the stakes are high, new relationships start or a new challenge is on the horizon.
A Possible Solution for Indian Teams
One solution the Indian team can take is to improve meeting preparation skills. All of the problems listed above in the bulleted point list can be taken into consideration here. Teams can identify all of their weaknesses in meeting etiquette, prioritize the most important ones and learn to build their skills in these areas.
Over the course time, this would naturally solve the problem of US clients asking/demanding more meeting time, naturally.
*Take note that we should avoid asking questions with "why" and "you" in the same question, as questions posed this way make the other defensive and closed to communication.
While some teams can do this process on their own, others need a facilitator. Jennifer Kumar, author of this article is a facilitator and corporate coach helping Indians to better communicate with their US counterparts. A native born American citizen, Jennifer can help your teams dig into the American mind to find holistic and comprehensive solutions to your cross-cultural communication challenges.
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