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November 21, 2018

3 Ways to Get to Know Your U.S. Client Before You Talk For the First Time

Many working on global software teams or those who provide IT consulting or app building services to U.S. clients may start their engagement with limited knowledge about their client outside the technical scope and requirements of the project. 

If this is you, let's see how you can get to know some simple things about your U.S. client before you even start the first call that will help you build context and relationship before you say HELLO. 

Build the Relationship before the first call

Look up the Client's Business Website, LinkedIn or Online Presence 
Get some basic idea of what the client's business actually is. What is the business' personality? What is their language? I do not mean "English." Of course, if the client is in the United States there is a good chance their website or online materials are in English- but what is the language of their business? For example, how do they refer to their customers? Do they call their customers patients, clients, customers, guests, or by another name? Pick up little tidbits about their language and business. This will help you go to the next level of customer service

Note Down Their Address and Contact Information
I have worked with many developers who answer, "I don't know" when asked, "Where is your client located in the United States?" In many cases these developers are not new to the project, but have been working with the client for months, and in rare cases, years. Knowing even small tidbits like this can not only build business integrity, but can build personal connections with your clients with ease and can help long term in other conversations outside of small talk (such as in negotiations).

Of course you may connect on Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts or another online platform that doesn't require you to know their phone numbers or physical address, but knowing it can provide a lot of context to your client and their environment. For instance, you will get to know:
  • What city and state they are located in
  • What time zone in the US they are located in (there are four time zones in the continental U.S.) 
  • Maybe you can locate their office on Google Maps and see their office building 
In reading US style addresses, you may come across some abbreviations you are not familiar with. A few of the short forms with their expansions are below:
  • APT: Apartment (this would be rare for a business address unless the person has a home based business)
  • AVE: Avenue 
  • BLVD: Boulevard (a wide, tree lined road, mostly in bigger towns)
  • HWY: Highway 
  • P.O. Box: Post Office Box (an address that sends mail to a post office, not a physical office building)
  • PKWY: Parkway (a road typically reserved only for cars and small vehicles) 
  • STE: Suite (an office area inside a bigger building, learn more here)
  • X: Extension for a phone number (For example, look at this phone number (555)555-5555 X777, the extension is 777. To reach this person, dial the international code for the US, then then digits, wait for an operator or a prompt to request the extension number 777 which connects you to the person's desk.) 

To look up other street and building abbreviations used in the U.S., refer to the United States Postal Service Street Suffix Abbreviations list or the USPS Street and Secondary Units Abbreviations Job Aid listing.

The format of most US business addresses is something like this (keep in mind that commas and spaces are important): 
Name of Business
Street number Street Name Street Abbreviation, (Suite/Apartment number) 
City, State Zip Code

Example (address created only for example purposes, any relation to a real address is purely coincidental):
Good Home Furnishings 
111 Main Street, STE 300
Anytown, NE 33300-4444

State names tend to be abbreviated into two letters, which are both capitalized. They can be listed without dots or with dots (N.E. or NE). In this case, NE stands for Nebraska, which is happens to have two time zones, Mountain Time Zone and Central Time Zone. To pinpoint a time zone, and check the time difference between India and your client's office, plug in the US town name and your Indian city into Timebie.

The nine digit number after the state is a zip code. They used to only be 5 digits, but many are now listed as 9 digits with a dash between the fifth and sixth digit. 

Try to Understand Their Business to Guess How Your Solution Helps Their Business
Your client is working with your company, your team and YOU to build their business. While you are providing a technical solution, this solution is helping with their company in some way. By knowing a little about their company, can you make any guesses how your solution will build their business? How will it help their business in a way other older or low tech solutions have not? 

Trying to understand and apply some of these elements to your client conversations will not only build relationships but build your business acumen. You will get to know your own work from a different perspective and at the same time help increase your own job security! The more your clients like you and your company the more they would want to continue working with your teams (for support, upgrades, other software and apps) and even refer you and your company to other clients to build your company's portfolio. 

Feel free to share other small ways you have built the relationship with your international client to make the working relationship more interesting or easy? 

Jennifer Kumar, author of this post, Managing Director of Authentic Journeys provides business consulting and targeted coaching to global, virtual teams helping them to build relationships across oceans while mitigating cultural difference to aid in flourishing business relations. Contact us to learn how we can help your business.

Related Posts: 
Common Short Form Abbreviations in the U.S. 
Avoiding Mistakes in Offshoring and Outsourcing 
10 Tips to Work Effectively with Americans 

November 20, 2018

Test English Comprehension with YouTube Captions

One of the common questions I have been asked is, "What can I do to understand American accent better?" 

If you are learning American English as a second language (ESL), I advise learners to either listen to American radio stations online or find YouTube videos or podcasts of people having a normal conversation. This means it should be unscripted conversation, not Hollywood movies or TV shows. Now a days, YouTube makes this even easier with the addition of captions.

Tutorial on How to See Captions on YouTube

Do not jump to the use of captions immediately. First listen to a few minutes of a clip without the captions. Write down how much you think you understood. Was it 50%, 80% or 40%? Then listen to the same clip again after turning on the captions. How much did you actually understand? Did you understand more or less than you originally thought? 

Well, if you do not know how to turn on the captions on, let me walk you through the process of turning on the captions while using YouTube on your laptop, desktop or mobile (cell phone). 

Steps in Turning on Captions on Mobile Using the iPhone YouTube App
This tutorial follows the steps using the YouTube mobile app on the iPhone. Let's see how to do it.

Step 1: Get Caption Option on Mobile/Cell Phone
To get the option for captions, place your finger anywhere on your cell phone screen over the video. At this time, the screen over the video will turn black, with options in white. Three dots will appear on the top right (I circled it in green). Tap on these dots for the options.

View Video Captions on iPhone YouTube App

Step 2: Select Option for Captions
After selecting the three dots on the top right of the mobile screen, the options below will pop up. Select the "captions" option highlighted in green below.

Reading English Captions on YouTube Videos

Step 3: Select the English Option
Look at the bottom of the cell phone screen and tap on the option for English as highlighted in the green box below.

View English Subtitles on YouTube Videos

Step 4: Read Video Captions on Your Device
Hopefully regardless of using an iPhone, Android or any other smartphone, the captions should start displaying at the bottom of the video as in the image below.

Read English Captions on YouTube Videos on Your Phone

Now that we have talked about how to view captions on the YouTube App on the cell phone, let's see how to do the same thing on a desktop or laptop. 

Steps on Viewing English Captions on YouTube Videos on a Normal Browser
The Chrome browser was used to create this tutorial. 

Step 1: Get Caption Option on Desktop/Laptop
After starting to watch the YouTube video on your Internet browser, mouseover the video so that the screen turns black. Many options in white font will pop up. Choose the three dots circled in green on the top right to find the options for captions.

Step 2: Select Option for Captions

After pressing on the three dots on the top right of the video, the options below will pop up. Select the option outlined in green. 

Step 3: Select the English Option

 Step 4: Read Video Captions on Your Device
 Success! Now it is possible to read the captions on your laptop internet browser.

What's the difference between captions and subtitles? 
The two words captions and subtitles are easily confused. While both are words on the bottom of the screen, captions are printed words that are being spoken on the screen in the same language. Subtitles, however, are translations of the dialogue on the screen into another language. So, if there are English words on the bottom of the screen and the dialogue is in French, the English words are subtitles. If the movie is in French, and the words in the bottom are in French, then those words are captions. For the purposes of this post, we are talking about captions and not subtitles. 

The video featured in the images above is an interview hosted by Job Valluthamannunkal of JMaxx Media. In the video, Job casually interviews the Managing Director of Authentic Journeys (the blog you are reading now). Watch the video below.  

The author of this post, Jennifer Kumar, is the Managing Director of Authentic Journeys based in Salt Lake City, Utah. Jennifer has more than 10 years living and working between the US and India. Her expertise lies in helping global professionals working between the US and India bridge the culture gap on virtual teams. Get in touch with us to learn more abut Working with India or Working with the US cross-culture training programs.

November 10, 2018

Lessons on Giving Feedback and Motivation to Teams in India

"Training our employees like that won't work. You have to be more strict with them. If they make a mistake, point it out! Point out their faults publicly to make them ashamed so they will improve." 
Is Money the Best Motivator?

Certainly, this has never been a popular approach for motivation and constructive criticism highlighted in the Harvard Business Review, but this HAS BEEN told to me in several companies I have partnered with through Authentic Journeys in India. I learned the hard ways that some Indians tended to apply this strategy in a corporate situation. This was certainly the case in some of the 50 companies I consulted with in India. When I say I learned the hard way, I was also treated like a local. There were a few instances I was shamed by a manager in front of the group to get their desired outcome or to change my behavior.

And, it worked. 

Yes, I changed my approach. It was not easy. I have adapted some of the Indian style and some of my American style into a unique approach. And, in a few instances, I had to learn to context switch, applying a harsher, more direct approach that I ever would in a corporate setting in the U.S. (The irony here is in most cross culture training programs it is said that Indians are indirect. While there are certainly situations that people in India are indirect, this is one exception.) I would not use this approach with Americans. NOT at all. It would not be motivating. In fact, they would be offended, and kick me out of the organization for not acting 'professional,' and, ironically, being too direct. It's this very difference that I often try to teach in US culture training programs to Indians working with US counterparts. It's a big learning curve and mindset change. Many often ask me in such sessions, "How can I possibly communicate to my Indian counterparts and US counterparts differently in the same meeting?" (They want to learn how to 'context switch.')
Indeed, a valid question. Some managers have found their own style to balance this cultural divide. In the beginning it wasn't easy. The Americans were confused hearing very direct orders to the Indian counterparts by the Indian manager, while the Indian subordinates were confused to hear the Indian manager asking the US manager (rather than using statements) to get work done. (That's because questions in some parts of India are seen as suggestions, and statements are seen as things that need to be done. While in the US, questions are seen as polite requests that will be discussed before completion, and statements are too directive and seen as rude and disrespectful. Part of the language difference is cultural, the other part could be based on the mother tongue influence.) 

Anyhow, after reading Neil's article, I have considered a few points to share with you on motivation, praise, and criticism. 

How to Motivate Indians? 
While Neil suggests individual motivators, and I would agree that motivating individuals is a way to go, we need to be careful how we do it. In Kerala, and maybe it's the communist mentality that causes this, but competition becomes higher when one is praised publicly in front of others, so typically, I praise in private, or praise someone's behavior rather than them personally or praise a group of people about something they have done. Why do I do this? Here are two examples: 

Example 1: Indian Manager Asks How to Motivate Staff
I was coaching an Indian manager with 25 plus years experience in logistics. He wanted to motivate his staff. I asked, "Could you praise individuals who have done well through achievement awards?" His response was, maybe the new generation would be privy to this, but the more experienced employees may get jealous of those who were praised, and those who get praised would come to me demanding for a raise (in his words, 'pay hike'). Then, I suggested how about praising the team for their great work as a whole, pointing out what they did well, and noting how it's improved the company's bottom line (a great tip straight out of Harvard Business review). He again wasn't happy with my suggestion. He said, "If I mention company's bottom line, they again will come to me and demand a raise as the company is doing well." In the end, he used indirect group motivators mixed with a bit of criticism to motivate the people to do better in what they lacked this time around. 

The irony here is that though India is known as a group culture and the US an individualistic one, individual motivators tend to work better in corporations in India, while group or team motivators work better in the US.  

Example 2: Prizes During Training Program

Using motivators in the training room
Learning about cross-culture models and gaps with the Lewis Model- and CANDY!
Learn more about a "Cross-Cultural Approach to Learning"
Prizes or candy is a common feature of many training programs I deliver. However, prizes must be given to everyone, not just the winner. I had a few cases where I gave prizes out only to individual winners or winning teams and did not give anything to the non-winners, and got bad feedback on my evaluation. Well, I did a good job delivering the training, but on the feedback form it would say, "Some team members got a prize or candy, but I did not." Leaving a group with a feeling of 'not liking a person' is not good to do in India. The relationship (liking) is more important than the task in many cases (as seen through a Western lens). So, the main thing is we need to leave the group feeling good. If they feel good, they will learn more, and give good feedback. In the US, this affinity principle is not so overt. People really don't "care" if they like the trainer, they will worry more about the delivery of the training or the quality of the information (not that is not important in India, but it's valued differently than the relationship). So, due to this, I bring prizes or candy for everyone in many sessions where we play games. Winners may get a slightly bigger candy bar than the runners up, but everyone will get something. If I give one thing to one person, I have to be ready to give it to everyone. 

Interestingly, again in the US, there is not a value put on this in a professional environment. 

Using Time As A Motivator 
In this article, an American manager tries to motivate her Indian team by saying "If we finish this now and get this stressful part over now, we can relax later." I doubt this approach would work with many in India. This phrase on it's own shows the US or Western approach toward time (that it's linear) and destiny or self-determination (we can control the future). Both, not really popular or understood ideas in India. Plus, with the way time shifts from moment to moment in India, people may not trust in this approach. 

Frankly, after living in India for four years, I would not believe this either! Though, if used in the US, I would believe it. 

Public Praise 
Public praise doesn't work the same in India, surely not in Kerala. Public praise may get people suspicious. Public praise to one person will make that one person often demand a raise, and the others will be jealous and competitive (as in the above example). Public praise that the team or company is doing well (especially financially) will not employees motivate to work harder in most cases, but again be a reason to demand a raise (the thought - if the company is doing so well, it has profits, we must share the wealth). I'm not sure if this stems from the communist ideals in Kerala. (My guess as an outsider looking in. Feel free to comment, if I have misunderstood.) 

Since originally writing this in 2015, I have heard a few more stories like this from other parts of India. For example, in a central Indian based MNC, during a town hall when the manager mentioned the company's growth, one of the 1,000 attendees stood up during the question session and said, "I heard it mentioned that the company's growth is much better than expected. When will see this reflected in our pay?" 

Delivering Criticism 
I have actually seen that in some teams criticism done publicly motivates the team because they don't want to be shamed. But, rather than criticize an individual, criticize a group. However, I have seen individuals criticized, too (as in the example I started this article with, where I was publicly criticized). I think the idea is, "See the manager's job is to make us better, and if we are good, there's no point in giving feedback, only when we do bad he needs to point it out. That's his job." People may be motivated by fixing their mistakes rather than pointing out the positives and building off of those (anyhow this approach does take creativity). This approach also stems from the education system as a whole. Many teachers and parents in India motivate by pointing out mistakes or areas for improvement or where to make up lost marks, and not the positive aspects. These differences are overacted on many YouTube videos where Indians have recreated scenes of how Americans parents respond to "bad" grades compared to Indian parents. 

And, if you are an American in India and publicly criticized, It is very possible you will be humiliated, offended, and think it's not professional. Whatever you do, DO NOT talk back. Just take it. Just nod and say "ha" or "yes" in typical Indian style (where "yes" doesn't mean "I agree" but "I am listening.") Maybe later, depending on the manager, you could speak to him or her individually. Just do not ever talk back in front of the group. You will lose face, and the respect of your other team members. I have also learned this the hard way.

Please share any other tips or contradictions to these points in the comments below. Thank you. 

This blog post is based on The True Secret to Motivating Indian Teams, a recent article by Neil Miller an American expat living in Chennai. After reading his post, I became motivated myself to share some feedback based on his observations. 

Author Jennifer Kumar is an American citizen who has lived as an expat in India twice for a total of 10 years. Six and a half of those ten years she spent running her own business in India providing business consulting, cross-culture training, and virtual team coaching. Based in Salt Lake City, she is also looking to work with your US based company to bridge the culture gaps to improve relationships, workflow and ROI. Contact us today. 

Related Posts: 

Diplomatic Way To Say Someone's Wrong in English 
Delivering "Improvement Tips" (Bad Feedback) Positively 
Motivation Across Cultures  

Articles in the series "How to train in India":

October 28, 2018

4 Ways to Encourage Offshore Indian Teams to Participate in Meetings

4 Ways to Encourage Offshore Indian Teams to Participate in Meetings American counterparts and clients often voice frustration that the Indian offshore developers do not speak up. For teams following scrum, daily stand up meetings can help resolve some of these problems. But, for those not using stand up meetings or relying on other kinds of meetings and group discussions to foster discussion, it still may seem the Indian counterparts are mum. While this may frustrate you and make you wonder if they can actually talk about their work confidently, there are some tips you can apply to help encourage discussions. 

Insist on Meeting Agendas 
Insist offshore Indian software teams to have meeting agendas that incorporate key players into the agenda. While an agenda can help keep things from going overtime, in some teams when agendas are first established, the head honcho is the only one talking, while the developers stay mum. While some of this can be attributed to the differences in management hierarchy in India, some can be resolved by insisting on an agenda that calls out specific topics, and against each topic the person who is actually doing that task has to talk (not their manager). 
See our workshop on Effective Meeting Management

Move to One-on-Ones 
If group meetings do not work, try one-on-one meetings. While I know you have only so many hours in a day, and adding one-on-ones can sound tedious, the good news about one-on-ones is that they can be in shorter duration than full-length meetings. The one-on-one could be scheduled with only the person doing the task, not the entire team or the management. In some cases, I have seen with those weaker in English conversation start out with IM or chat meetings then work up to phone calls.

Use IM or Chat 
Quick pings can help get the attention and response from offshore
Do you have only one question or a short message to deliver? Try IMing the person in question. Sometimes these short interactions could build rapport and build confidence to phone conversations. While sticking to work related questions may come by default, maybe having a short small talk conversation about the team member's weekend or a recent holiday that passed can help to break the ice. Or, just ping your colleague to say "Hi" or "Good day." 

Talk in Plain English 
This maybe the most tricky of all, because for this to happen the awareness and onus has to fall on onshore native speakers of English. Remember that while offshore team members have a wide range of fluency, it is still a good bet that even the most fluent may not always understand American idioms in conversation, and how to respond. In some cases, the idiomatic responses get lost in translation and can cost time or money in project work. In other cases, it just so happens that your offshore team are too busy trying to translate idioms in their head to their local language and back to English again to try to get the meaning, and are just at a loss for words. It's important for onsite native English speakers to be aware of their word use and if normally talkative offshore team members are suddenly mum, take inventory of what was just said. Was an idiom or phrasal verb used? Something as ordinary as saying, "Looks like Ram is MIA." could be answered with silence while the team tries to figure out what MIA means! As native speakers, it's often challenging to identify when an idiom or phrasal verb is said, but after the first two or three times the silence is noticed, try again to repeat what was just said in different words (plain English). As idioms are quite poetic, it can be challenging, but this will help offshore understand easier. 

Are you an American working with Canadians, Australians or British nationals? Don't assume that they know American idioms or phrases! While some of the same phrases may cross borders, they may or may not have the same meaning. For example, I (an American) was once talking to my British counterpart who said, "That's going straight to the skip." I had no idea what skip meant as skip means a kind of hop in America which suddenly made no sense to me. I did speak up and ask what skip meant, and found out it meant 'dump.' But, as my British counterpart did not use the word 'dump,' we both had to use plain English to say, "the public place where garbage is thrown."

Indian offshore teams may not always be so bold to ask about a particular word or phrase, so it may be up to you to be aware of phrases and idioms to rephrase for clearer communication. 

Jennifer Kumar, helps you to identify culture and communication problems on your global team. We can work together to improve your team's workflow and day to day functioning.  Contact us for more information today. 

October 20, 2018

How to Use English to Build Respect with US Clients

Using the 'active voice' communicates ownership
"His American client doesn't think he takes initiative or ownership, but he does all of his work!"  

This is a typical complaint many clients and their managers bring to me to resolve during coaching sessions. Though many behaviors and communication tactics can be used to demonstrate initiative and ownership, I will isolate one commonly seen in the Indian English communication style- the preference of PASSIVE VOICE over ACTIVE VOICE.  

One reason passive voice is favored in India is due directly related to the Mother Tongue Influence (MTI). In this case, MTI refers to the cultural use of local languages that favor automatic use of the passive voice (as it tends to be more indirect, a softer tone, especially for a 'subordinate' talking to a 'superior,' clients already have the assumed status of 'superior' in many cases). Using passive voice in India works well most of the time, as it can communicate deference and respect. Often among Americans, the passive voice can express a lack of taking ownership, not getting to the point, and not taking initiative and responsibility. Similarly, the over use of the passive voice doesn't build trust. It is common knowledge in the US that people who over use the passive voice, such as lawyers and politicians, are often thought of as being untrustworthy.

There is a clear communication and cultural gap here.

Yes, in learning how to change from one style (known by interculturalists as code switching) to the other, many headaches happen. These are two very different styles of communication and thought.

Here are some examples of passive vs. active voice:

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 (Utah). We provide onsite and live-online instructor-led courses, facilitation and corporate coaching.