Speak Up in Meetings with US Counterparts

Posted On: February 20, 2020

Does your team feel shy or reluctant to speak up during daily stand up meetings, status update meetings or interactions with US counterparts? 

Use some simple group discussion skills to enliven your meeting to encourage participation.

Encourage Participation in Meetings With These Strategies

Add the person’s name into the agenda
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.

Hold Successful Meetings with US Clients
Listening and Non-Verbal Participation Skills 
some Indian offices the manager (or perceived highest ranking team member) 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 (or for junior team members to defer to more senior ones), it’s common to see
the other participants not paying attention, or paying attention and not speaking up. 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 (the team dynamics, and possibly, company culture endorse this). 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. For those working in Agile teams, this type of interaction tends to run counter to the assumed equality that agile teams promote. Hence, our coaching program helps to overcome some of these barriers to create an environment which is both culturally sensitive, yet adaptable to the Agile ways of working.

Keep the Discussion Moving
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 
  5. Questions or doubts must be asked one at a time  

#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.

Note, as well that point number 5 is also a sticky wicket because in Indian culture, asking questions is often considered disrespectful, so an Indian counterpart may form a question in the form of statement (which may be read as a demand by a US American). However, the problem of not asking questions can result in one of many outcomes such as: not understanding the requirements clearly, not being able to understand the client’s real motivations and business need for the product or service, and a sense from the US American the India team is not curious and, hence not really interested in them (as business partners or as people). Those on the US side can keep this in mind while interacting with the India team and react accordingly or help bridge the communication gap with other approaches.

It’s not always apparent when some of these behaviors are or are not happening. Hence, often I am asked to observe client calls or listen to recordings to give specific feedback on where people are going wrong, how to fix it and how to keep doing what is working right. This not only helps improve client communication and process, but team building and leadership among all team members, which is a critically important piece to staying visible in virtual work settings.

I have worked with over 50 companies in India and trained over 3,500 individuals. The communication and team dynamics in some cases may seem to be a hard problem to solve, but with the right intervention, we have seen dramatic results which improve communications from both sides of the table. Jennifer
Kumar, CEO of Authentic Journeys, based in Kochi, India and Salt Lake City, Utah helps teams to
speak effectively across cultural boundaries on global teams. Contact us today! 

Related Posts: 
Stop speaking to speak better 
Group Discussion Tips – Phrases to use in Meetings 
Tips US Americans Can Use to Work Effectively with Teams in India 
Why an Indian Manager’s Requests Were Being Met with a Cold Shoulder 

Original post: April 2015

Update: February 2020



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