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February 28, 2020

Coaching English Learners Case Study: Importance of Listening

ESL Coaching For Confidence and Clarity
Do you feel tongue tied in English (as your second or other language)? 

I'd like to share a case study from a student (working professional in late 40s) I was working with just today. This is AMAZING. 

Me (Coach): What is one of the communication challenges you face?

Student: When someone talks, I am always worried about what I will say. I feel I am not listening.

Me: How would you like to see this change?

Student: I wish I could not worry about what I want to say. I get worried I will lose my words. Maybe that's why I do this? I started learning English after college in my home country and have been living here ever since. I need more confidence. 

Me: How can you build your confidence? 

Student: The main thing is I have to listen. But I am always worried that I miss something. So when the person stops talking, I always ask them to repeat.

Me: How does that feel? 

Student: I don't feel good. I may feel that my colleagues don't think I am good at English because I am always asking them to repeat. 

Me: Can I suggest a different approach? 

Student: Yes 

Me: Would you be interested to do an exercise on paraphrasing? I will tell you a story for about 3-4 minutes, and you can respond by starting, "If I understand you correctly..." then say 3-4 sentences to summarize what I have said. 

Student: Yes, let's try. 

Me: (I told a story for 3-4 minutes) 

Student: "If I understand you correctly...." she stopped talking and got frustrated. She was silent for a minute. 

Me: Share with me what happened. 

Student: I did listen to you for the first sentence, but then I went into my head and started thinking what to respond. By the time you finished, I couldn't paraphrase because I wasn't listening. But, also I couldn't respond with anything because I didn't listen to you. I got embarrassed and shut down. 

Me: Your English is really good and clear. So, I think language is not your problem, but listening seems to be where you struggle. I'm paraphrasing my observation here. Is that true? 

Student: Yes. I also feel I am always worried about the future, what to do or say next. I want to sound good, articulate and smart. But, since I am not in the moment, I lose the future and the response, too. I should really concentrate on my listener so that I can respond clearly and appropriately. 

Me: You have answered your own question. [I paused. She looked a bit shocked and relieved.] Shall we try the same exercise again? 

Student: Yes 

Me: Keep in mind after you paraphrase to ask a question or offer an observation to keep the conversation going. 

[Pause - She took notes.] 

Me: I will tell you a slightly different story. [I told a different story for 3-4 minutes.]
[During this time, the student really listened intently with good body language. I could tell she was really paying attention.] 

Student: "If I understood you correctly...." [She paraphrased appropriately, though she did get stuck once or twice and repeated a few place names or people's names incorrectly.] ... Your story is very interesting because I experienced the same thing once... [She went on for one or two sentences...]

We debriefed the session up to this point following this. She had asked me if she paraphrased correctly. I did note there were one or two mistakes, but that would be natural even for a native speaker as I used some place names or people's names that may not be familiar to everyone. Then, I asked:

Me: If you could compare the first try to the second try, what would you say? 

Student: Well... in the second attempt, I really listened with more awareness. I feel I was in the moment. 

Me: I could tell the difference. too. Your body language was different. You were leaning in to me, and your eyes were looking at me. The first time, your eyes looked as if you were worried about something. 

Student: Yes, that's right!! Wow!! I was so worried I couldn't respond to you and what to say. My heart started racing and I actually shut down and stopped listening to you, so when I had to talk I was absolutely silent. 

Me: What do you think about this? 

Student: This happens to me at work here all the time. Sometimes whoever I am talking with looks at me and makes me think I don't know English.. but I have been working in the USA for 20 years. I have earned my degree here. I have American English speaking friends. I hate it when this happens. I feel as if I lose all my progress in English in that moment. (She trails off....) 

Me: What do you want to happen? 

Student: Well, as in relation to our exercise today, of course the second example. 

Me: How did you feel different in the second example? 

Student: I actually thought I would not be successful... but I just was patient and stayed in the moment. I was so happy and relieved that I could paraphrase what you said AND continue the conversation. I felt very confident and relaxed. I want to feel like this all the time. 

Me: That's amazing! I am so happy for you and am here to support you. What would be the best way to support you? Or is there anyone else who can support you? 

Student: Thank you!! I hope I can continue to do this. I need to stop telling myself I can't do it. I just did it right now! And, it's so amazing! I do know I know English. I can have conversations. I am not sure who can support me as I am working here onsite, alone. My family is back home. But, in the office I have to really slow down and be patient with myself. Then, when we meet for classes, we can review the situations I faced. Do you know I have taken classes like this in the past...? I keep taking these classes, but I can't move forward. But, I know English!! 

Me: Yes, your English is really good!! It sounds like you'd also like to work on being in the moment, then only formulating your thoughts when it's time to speak which could help you feel free to listen. Have I understood you correctly? 

Student: Yes!! And, I see there's a new way to use the summary question - at the end rather than at the beginning like we practiced? Me: Yes, either way works well. 

Student: Will native speakers think I am not smart if I use this technique? 

Me: Well maybe I can I turn the question around on you? When you aren't listening, you mentioned you always ask someone to repeat. How do you feel others react to this? 

Student: Well..... I think they think I don't really know English because I am asking to repeat all the time. They may also not want to talk with me thinking I will always ask to repeat. But I am able to actually understand them if I am patient and listen. 

Me: You got it! Again, your insight has answered your own question. But, to answer your question from earlier, paraphrasing is a common communication technique in the US. Most good communicators in the US do it in daily conversations, meeting management and even facilitating training programs, as I remember you do this as well. This can help you to actually answer people's questions when you don't really know what they are trying to ask. 

Student: Wow, I have learned a lot today!! I have a lot to practice until the next time we meet. 

Me: I am happy to hear that!

[We wrapped up our session and scheduled our next meeting.] 

As a reader of this blog, do you resonate with this story? Do you feel the same way as this permanent resident in the US? Get in touch with us so we can help you succeed linguistically and culturally in the US to feel comfortable and confident in your daily interactions in the office with US Americans. Jennifer Kumar is based in Salt Lake City and can meet you in person if you are in Salt Lake City or Utah or the surrounding areas. If you are in India or elsewhere in the world, we can meet online for virtual coaching session. Contact me at +1 (385) 218-0947 (US number) or over Whatsapp: 91-95-393-47529 (India number). Looking forward to partnering in your success. 

Jennifer Kumar is an International Coach Federation Coach with a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language Certificate) and a background of more than 10 years working and doing business in Kerala, India as an American expat.  

Other case studies: 
Why an Indian Manager's Requests Were Being Met with a Cold Shoulder 
Motivation and how it is culturally biased 

Learn more about our coaching process. We work with individuals, teams and companies. 

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Who gets help from a cross-cultural business strategist?

Who gets help from a cross-cultural business strategist?

Jennifer Kumar consults with global teams on clear
communication and presentation strategies.
Since 2011, several categories of professionals have benefited from sessions with our cross-cultural and language experts at Authentic Journeys: 

  • Virtual IT teams working across global boundaries. We help your teams communicate more effectively in daily StandUp meetings and in other interactions with clients and stakeholders in the USA. 
  • Indians working offshore, interacting daily or regularly with US clients via online meeting collaboration tools, conference calls, chat, and email. 
  • Indians working as Business Development Professionals conducting sales calls, email campaigns and webinars with US Americans. 
  • Indians working onsite in the US wanting to know how to improve their communication with Americans for moving up the corporate ladder.
  • Indians preparing to be expats going onsite to the client site. Sessions helped IT and other professionals to wine and dine clients or work onsite for an extended amount of time.
  • US Americans preparing to start and offshore development team or any offshore office location in India.
  • US Americans trying to understand and navigate daily work conversations with Indian counterparts. (Jennifer Kumar, the Managing Director has over 10 years living, working and doing business including negotiating deals in India.) 
  • Prepare Indian business professionals to interview with Western (US, UK, Canadian, Australian) clients looking to hire offshore talent.
  • Professionals wanting to improve their written and business English skills in the US and global workplace. Typically, most of the clients are English as Second Language (ESL) speakers or want to fine tune their English to more of an American vernacular and accent. (See our recent ESL coaching case study.) 
  • Expats in the US from any country who want to understand US Culture with more ease for integration, socialization and professional enhancement.
Jennifer Kumar, Managing Director of Authentic Journeys
facilitating a session on Small Talk.

Note: Though our focus is on bridging cultural gaps between the US and India, we are adept at coaching you regardless of cultures you are trying to bridge through our coaching approaches. 

Are you wondering about outcomes? Take a look at this recommendation:

"When it comes to US business, the first name that comes to my mind is Jennifer. She is my mentor, coach and guide for empowering me to bridge the US - India cultural gap. Back in 2014, I have had a very painful event in my career where I lost a US client due to my lack of understanding of this cultural mismatch. I had the client team visiting and I thought I played the roles really well..of course...according to Indian standards. But when the client shied away, I was perplexed and dejected. I did not know what went wrong and spend a lot of sleepless nights pondering this over. I then connected to my peers and they suggested that I meet Jennifer.

One great thing about Jennifer is her in-born talent of not judging people and accepting them as they are. Jennifer after listening to my story of the lost deal just knew what could have gone wrong and inducted me to her real-life practical sessions on US Business Culture. Oh man! that was an eye opener. Since then I didn't have to look back and could close deals one after another with the US clients.

Before the incident, I thought the sessions on culture was just a mumbo-jumbo with a lot of hype around it. I am now a living example of how Authentic Journeys and Jennifer created a paradigm shift. She is really genuine and accommodates serious learners. Since then our journey has had a definite meaning and I will always remain grateful to her for my transformation.

Authentic Journeys, I would say is The Cultural Translator for Indo-US Businesses. Small details that goes unnoticed might create a great divide and will drive the clients from the US away. Having said that, it is NOT to say that US companies don't know that they are in a new country and the cultural differences definitely exist. In spite of that many meetings go astray. Jennifer and Authentic Journeys have taken pains to list down the do's and don'ts for US visitors to India. I would strongly recommend businesses that aspire to build a base in India or US connect with Authentic Journeys Representatives.

Ensuring the true spirit of cross cultural translation is what Authentic Journeys advocates. This is not easy. A more deeper level of understanding of both the cultures is required to ensure that the transition is perfect. Every communication verbal or non-verbal becomes important in business. Starting from a handshake which is otherwise perceived as harmless to the first 14 seconds of personality scanning (mirror neuron connection) decides the future of the business relationships. Authentic Journeys connects with both the cultures and translates the meaning of their verbal/non-verbal maps. Sometimes Authentic Journeys has to step into the role of a behavior coach as well. Jennifer is highly qualified and experienced to take this feat forward.

I wish all the very best to Jennifer and Authentic Journeys for the wonderful work that they are doing now. Please continue to inspire more businesses."

~Jinesh Naranayankutty

Certificates and Online Graduation Ceremonies Celebrate Learning.

Links to all five parts:

The whowhatwhenwherewhy and how of cross-cultural training and strategy facilitation.

Original Post Date: Jan. 25, 2011

Updated: February 28, 2020

February 26, 2020

Is the Term "Conference Call" Obsolete?

The other day I was reviewing a post from 2014 that used the term 'conference call.' As I was reviewing this post and debating on how to edit it, one of the biggest questions I had in my mind was, "How common is the term conference call in 2020? And, how does this impact training global, virtual teams?" 

Conference table with phones at intervals.
These phones would be put into speaker phone mode for team calls.

Note: All images in this post were taken by the author, Jennifer
Kumar in training rooms in India between 2012-2017.

Personally, as most of the global and virtual teams I work with tend to connect over collaboration platforms such as Zoom, Skype, Hangouts, Uber Conference and others, I decided to throw a question out there on Facebook and LinkedIn: 

What term or terms have replaced "conference call?"

Here are some of the 2020 Catch Phrases for 
Are you able to see the mics placed at intervals
along the middle of the table?
Conference Call:

  1. Bridge
  2. Call (with reference to the use of any web tool or online conference app)
  3. Con-Call or ConCall
  4. Dial-in Meeting
  5. Group Call
  6. Phone Meeting
  7. Scrum Call / Standup Meeting
  8. Teams Meeting (referring to Microsoft Teams)
  9. Teleconference/Telecon
  10. Town Hall
  11. Webconference
  12. WebEx (Or the tool- Skype, Zoom, Uber Conference, Hangouts, etc.)
  13. WhatsApp call

How Terminology Influences Training Global, Virtual Teams
Ah-ha! The lucky number 13- which means there must be more!! As I was listing these terms out, it was reminding me of the evolution of training virtual teams how to communicate clearly 'over the phone' Even if a phone was not really the gadget used, the phone was what we used to base the training around and the practice of delivery around. Now, in 2020, as I am delivering these programs online, it actually provides a perfect medium for the actual setting in which these meetings are now taking place, with the use of both audio and video. 

Conference room with mics placed at intervals under the
island in the middle of the table (2015). 

2014 Training Methodology

While we focused on clear voice projection over the phone, a single speaker phone along a long conference table, or along mics placed at intervals along a conference table, it was still important to have good body language and a smiling disposition, as these are still not only heard but seen over a phone line. I had a pretty good ability to detect when a person was not smiling or demonstrating bad posture on the call. In such cases, I was not even in the room. I'd ask the participants to role play conference calls from two different rooms. I'd be in a third room with walls separating us, taking notes (some images below). In almost all cases, I could accurately identify who was bending their neck while speaking or leaning too far into the table or frowning, though there was no way I could physically see them (there was no video connection between these rooms, and the machinery used to practice conference calls on were actually telephones and not web apps or online conferencing tools). 

Back in 2014, up until probably 2017 when I was transitioning to live back in the US, still very few teams used video in their calls on a regular basis. The only type of visual being used could have been screen sharing during product demos during release cycles or sprints. 

Before 2017, many teams I coached had a large conference room similar to this
which had a phone and a larger speaker phone sitting on the table. Though
both machines had a speaker phone, the problem was that many may not
be able to project their voice to be heard clearly in a big room over a speakerphone.
We'd practice posture, voice projection, clear speech and presentation skills for
phone meetings
in these programs.
(Which is still relevant for virtual and global teams in 2020.) 

2020 Training Methodology 

There are a few big differences in how I conduct these trainings today and the approaches used. Firstly, the trainings I conduct in 2020 are typically 95% virtual (where as in 2014 they were 95% face to face and in person). Virtual training is actually a perfect platform to train the virtual team members in the environment they will be or already are currently working in. Today, teams are more comfortable being on a video from the office or from home. In some cases we are on video for the duration of the session, in some other cases, the participants show their video to start, end and during some breakout activities during the call. So, though we are not in the same room, we do see each other. Also, as we are conducting the program virtually, more of the materials are shared digitally, where as in 2014, most of the materials were shared in hard copy. The one advantage of the 2020 method is that it is especially easier for me to analyze emails as in 2020 (and beyond, in virtual sessions) participants will be writing emails (or instant messages and chats) to me in actual emails (in 2014-2014 these activities were done in a physical room, written on paper). So, in 2020 I am seeing their actual communication in the medium in which it will be produced in the work scenario. 

Conference room set up circa 2013.

In 2020 there are still many individuals and teams that prefer to use voice only for team calls or StandUps, but some may use voice only if the Internet connection is slow and the video is clogging the line. Also, in some cases if the lines are clogged, status updates may be shared by text (and not voice), so we practice how to do this effectively, as well in the actual tool that they will be using with the clients or stakeholders.

Another big difference between 2014 and 2020 is that we have many more apps and instant messaging tools to connect with clients or global counterparts. What does this mean? Well, as I suggest to all my mentees, even if one meets on Zoom or any online collaboration tool, always select a back up communication tool with the client which can be used for pinging them in advance if one will be late or for emergencies. For this, I have tended to use WhatsApp with the teams I train. 

Facilitating the Meeting Management Best Practices
Module of Client Relationship Management.

Final Observations 
It's interesting to see how the terminology changed so rapidly, even in a few short years. Though I am spanning six years of recently history, these terminology changes, which relate to technology changes, makes it feel much longer. While so much has changed, so much does stay the same. Though we have so many more online collaboration tools to bring our global and remote teams together, the internet connection may let us down. Even in ideal circumstances, when the Internet and the tools are working flawlessly, we may let ourselves down by not being prepared for our demo, sales webinar, stand up meeting or negotiation conversations. That's where I can step in to work with your team. Feel free to get in touch with us today! You can also contact me (Jennifer Kumar) via US phone number +1 385-218-0947 or over WhatsApp (India number) +91 95 39347 529. Hope to hear from you soon!

Related Posts:
Tech terms in plain English 

February 22, 2020

Everyone Gets Heard During Stand-Up and Remote Meetings

Helping make virtual team meetings more productive
Helping make virtual team 
meetings more productive
Distributed teams attend stand up meetings by web conferencing, con-call or other online collaborative tools. These meetings can be attended in various ways. In some cases, the entire team sits in one room and calls in. In many more cases, however, people tend to call in from different places, as many team members may work in different office locations, remotely while traveling or from their home office. 

Coordinating these meetings can be a headache as many people will join the bridge from various locations. While turning on the video camera may help us to understand other's body language, some may not turn it on due to slow connections, or there are simply way too many team members logged on, so it's not possible to see everyone clearly on the screen at the same time. Or, some call in using their mobile phone, so the small screen makes viewing people and content challenging. As we are not able to see everyone's reactions, and connections can cut people off, it can be hard to tell when any person has stopped talking. Because of this, it's common for more than one person to talk at a time. How can we handle or avoid more than one person speaking at a time during a remote meeting? 

Tips for Facilitating Stand-Up Meetings: 

  • When starting any new engagement, it's important that ground rules are set. One of those rules can relate to clear communication or interrupting and how to go about doing that to assure each individual's voice is heard.
  • For regularly scheduled stand up meetings, one could consider having an order to who speaks first, second, third and so forth.
  • Participants in the meeting must direct their questions to a particular person by name - which may be especially important after the status updates are announced, when the blockers or barriers are discussed and quickly brainstormed. (Again, if all we have to connect with others is our voice, we can't make eye contact with them, so using the name is the best bet.)
  • If you want to transfer the conversation to a particular person, use their name. Not everyone on the call can see each other, and putting a name to a voice, especially in larger teams can be a challenge. 
  • When there is no option but to interrupt, we should take care to use the right phrases to politely interrupt and avoid the rude ones. 
  • For those who do happen to be attending from the same space use that to your advantage. Look at your teammate who is talking before you start talking. Use their name to transition, such as, "Lakshmi, I'll continue from here..." (This may seem obvious, but for many teams we have coached, they have 'forgotten' this, prioritizing virtual communication etiquette where not being in a room with the person is the norm.) 
Tips for Facilitating More Complex Meetings (the previous tips can also apply): 
  • Have a clear agenda with a person assigned to each talking point.
  • Assign a meeting moderator (which would be the Scrum Master in Agile teams) to handle conflicts in discussions.
  • Another solution can lie in the platform being used. Try the chat box, raise hands function, on demand polls, or other related functions of the platform being used. Note, that if this option is considered, coordinating these functions by the moderator alone may become challenging. Assigning a co-moderator who will inform the moderator at regular intervals about hand raises and chat or IM interruptions should be considered. This can be especially helpful for weekly demos or sales webinar demos.

(These answers assume that the equipment is working flawlessly!)

There will be other ideas that come to mind as we brainstorm this longer and as technology advances. The key here is that the meeting must be well planned and organized. Communication between as many team members on one side of the call must take place in advance. This does take preparation time for the team calling in, but will save time in actually holding the meeting and also will help in reducing these kinds of interruptions. In addition to this, individual contributors can prepare their talking points in advance (we coach you here, as well). 

Jennifer Kumar, author of this post helps Indian teams communicate more effectively with US counterparts by consulting with them, finding the gaps, and implementing simple processes to help improve communication within their team and between onsite and client teams. Contact her anytime to learn more by clicking here.

Related Posts: 

Help! My Developers Won’t Speak Up on Client Calls 
Stop talking to respond with more ease 
Mistakes Americans Make During Conference Calls 
Phrases to End a Meeting (Video Tutorial) 

Original date: Feb. 2014
Update: Feb. 2020

February 20, 2020

Speak Up in Meetings with US Counterparts

Hold Successful Meetings with US Clients
Does your team feel shy or reluctant to speak up during daily stand up meetings, status update meetings or interactions with US counterparts? Here are a few tips that my coachees have applied that have worked wonders.

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 (due to high power distance), 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.

Authentic Journeys: Bridging Culture on Virtual Teams

We help build effective, culturally competent global teams with focus on the cultures of the USA and India. Jennifer Kumar, Managing Director, an American citizen, has almost 10 years experience living, studying and working (owning a business) in India. Authentic Journeys Consultancy is registered as a Private Limited in India (Kerala) and an LLC in the USA (Salt Lake City, Utah). We provide onsite and live-online instructor-led courses, facilitation and corporate coaching.