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How to Make a Good First Impression Across Silos and Cultures never get a second chance to make a good first impression. – Will Rogers

Unlike what the song by the rock band, War, proclaimed in 1972, the world is not a ghetto... it is a silo.  That means that as the pressure to develop niches and specialization increases, it is becoming more of a challenge to communicate effectively across silos each of which represent subcultures within a company or organization as well as across cultures.

What can be done to ease that awkwardness when crossing silos within an organization or for that matter, crossing cultures outside be they between companies or countries?

Fortunately there are also a number of things that different silos and cultures have in common. 

It is the human nature of the individuals within them.  Nearly all human beings much prefer feeling comfortable than feeling awkward or even worse, embarrassed or humiliated.  Something else that individuals with different technical expertise or from different backgrounds have in common is that when they meet, they hope things will run smoothly going forward but aren’t certain about it.  And it’s the latter that causes a certain amount of anticipatory awkwardness when crossing into another culture.

Anticipatory Preemptive Humility

That is where Anticipatory Preemptive Humility can help pave the way for communication across any culture to go better.

To utilize it one person focuses on those factors above that people have in common and singles out a representative from the other group, and if possible one who may be influential with others around them, and asks, “If it’s okay, I’d like your help with something. Would it be okay if we had a conversation about how going forward we might work together well?”

After that and if you hopefully do have the opportunity to meet, say to that person, “Thank you for meeting with me.  If things work out going forward it seems we will be working together.  If that is true, I know that there are behaviors that people in my culture (generation, sex, race, country, department, etc.) do or fail to do that we don’t necessarily do intentionally, that can create awkwardness for you and may even embarrass you with some of your peers and cause you to have to explain what I did.  I don’t want to put you in that position.  So if you would be kind enough to tell me what those behaviors that we do or fail to do that could cause such awkwardness for you, I will be very pleased to make sure I don’t do them. I would also be quite comfortable if you shared this request with anyone from your group that I might interact with for their input.”

If they seem put off, say, “I’m sorry for the awkwardness that this just caused which is just another example of how we don’t understand each other. That’s why I’d like to understand these things better, but I’ll certainly respect your wishes if you’d rather not.” 

Then if they begin to tell you about what those things are that your departmental silo or culture (etc.) does or fails to do to create awkwardness, say to them, “Would you please give me a specific example and also can you explain to me why that causes such awkwardness so that I can understand it further?” You might also say, “This is much too important for me to not remember it, so would it be okay if I took a few notes to make sure I do?”

If the conversation seems to be going well, you might add, “Would it be okay if we figured out a signal like touching your chin that you could give me if I seem to be doing or not doing something that could be causing an awkwardness?”

You may not want to push it any further but a final thing you might ask them is, “By the way, if you’re interested I would be happy to share with you some of the things that people from your culture (race, generation, gender, department, etc.) do or don’t do that can unintentionally create awkwardness with us that you might want to know about.  (You can then smile in a friendly way if it seems to be well received) And if you like, we can even work out a signal I could give you?”

I can’t guarantee the effectiveness of this, but when I have used this approach in crossing over to another department, company or country more than a few people have told me afterwards that they had never met someone who took the time or made the effort to anticipate and plan for a positive working relationship and that they appreciated it.

Action Steps:

  1. Think of a person from another department that thinks very differently from yours that you would like to have a more cooperative and collaborative relationship with.  For example sales vs. operations, finance vs. creative, finance vs. talent, etc.
  2. Reach out to that person and tell them, “I’d like your help in figuring out the way my department and I can work most productively with your department and you. Might we meet to discuss that?”
  3. When you meet say, “Historically our departments have not worked as smoothly as I think we would both like.  Going forward what would you suggest we do differently from your department and your end to be effectively and efficiently and productively work together?”
  4. Then say, “Thank you for filling me in on that.  It will help me get my department on board with that if you will be kind enough to help me understand why you suggested those particular things.  Please go into a little more detail about them.”
  5. After they fill you in say, “BTW, would you be interested in hearing what your department and I would like to be different from you end so that we and I can work together with your department and you more productively?” And then tell them and once again thank them for their cooperation.

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