April 10, 2015

Speak Up in Meetings with US Counterparts

Three ways to get heard in team meetings on virtual teams.

Add the person's name into the agenda
As team members may find it difficult or emotionally uncomfortable to speak up or out of turn, especially if a manager is present, a manager or a coach can mentor the team member(s) on who, what and when to say it. For mentoring to be effective, role plays and mocks mixed with debriefs on application, awareness and outcomes seems to be an effective model for behavior change. It must also be noted that it may need to be a culture change among all team members, as this kind of interaction could disturb the balance of power.

Listening and Non-Verbal Participation Skills 
In many Indian offices the manager is listening and participating with the US counterparts while the other team members are silent. While there could be many reasons for this, one of the biggest reasons lies in the culture difference. Because it's customary to defer to the manager, and all communication is funneled through the manager, it's common to see the other participants not paying attention. As I have observed team calls from various companies from start ups to large MNCs, I have noticed that the manager may be the only one paying attention and listening through body language, non verbal behavior and of course, speaking up. The others know the communication is funneled through the manager, so they stay silent. Because they don't feel the pull to participate and it may not be encouraged anyhow, their body language is closed and their ears are 'turned off'. Turning these skills on is a culture shift and a behavior change. Some teams are successful at making the change, while others decide it's better for the team to not attend the call as a group and only have the manager attend.

Learn Group Discussion Skills
So, if a manager or team member asks for feedback, speaking up will happen eventually, but then the person may continue talking for long periods of time (which in the US could be considered 3 or more minutes, delaying the agenda from moving on). In this case, I suggest to Indians that if a manager asks for feedback do one or more of these things:


(1) Respond with one piece of feedback (one topic or element)  
(2) Do not repeat anything that has already been said (to do this, listening is critical)
(3) If you want to say something that was already mentioned, build on it by giving some more details
(4) turn the conversation over to a team member using their name as segue.

Point #2 is important as in India often the first person who answers will give a thoughtful and long answer. The other group members see the manager's approval of the answer, and therefore, the others just repeat what has already been said. When this happens with an American manager, he or she will feel the person is not listening or has nothing new to add. Both of these are not good impressions to give.  Here, then we need to learn how to give build answers. That's why when person #1 answers, they would give only one answer with convincing information, then turn the topic over to their colleague who can add something new to it.

These any many other skills are delivered in the sessions on effective meeting management.  


Jennifer Kumar, CEO of Authentic Journeys, based in Kochi, India helps foreign-born professionals and expats going to the US for work to adjust to the US work culture through innovative training and coaching programs. 

Related Posts: 
Stop speaking to speak better 
Group Discussion Tips - Phrases to use in Meetings 
Analyzing Group Discussions 

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