Opportunities are not floating in the air like ballons. They are connected to people. To be effective for our companies we need to build strong relationships with people. This takes some effort in our own culture – but how do we do this in a culture to which we are foreign?
Most cultural trainings focus on the things that are different in other cultures. A much more effective way is to focus on the things that connect us. Luckily, there are 5 major forces that create sympathy among people everywhere.
The more often we are in contact with someone, the better we feel about this person. This psychological phenomenon is called “Mere exposure effect” For expatriates this has two major applications:
First, in a new job or a virtual team – make sure that you are regulary “visible” to your coworkers. Make a contribution in meetings, write a private note now and then and make a phone- or video call to keep in touch. Many opportunities come along simply because you are available.
But take note: The “Mere exposure effect” works only as long as people don’t get a negative impression from your behaviour.
Second, reserve some “face time” with your family and friends at home. Share your experiences abroad with them and ask about their lives. And if possible: Use video conferences via skype or google hangouts to literally “be seen” by your loved ones.
This feature is important everywhere – but in cultures that have a very low tolerance for uncertainty,like the German one, it becomes especially significant.
People want to see that you keep your word and that you stay true to your believes. This is a regular point of conflict between German employees and team members or business partners from other cultures. For example an American manager might say “sure, no problem” to a request – because he is optimistic to find a way. A German manager would say so only if he already knows exactly how he will fulfill your request.
Consistency in your behavior is one side of the story – but there is a second one: People want to be consistent in their own world view as well – if your behavior, opinions or even the way you dress directly challenges their world view – they get confused and upset.
Therefore: Choose your battles wisely. If you can alter a behavior or the way you dress without compromising deep believes – do so. This gives you the possibility to take a stand on issues that are really important to you.
We all love this game: Where are you from and what do they do different there? However, when it comes to longterm, meaningful relationships we are locking for common values, believes, interests and habits. This is part of our deep rooted wish to belong to an “ingroup”. Our family and our “tribe”. Luckily in an individualistic society like Germany it is easy to become part of an ingroup.
Look actively for things that you have in common with the people around you and highlight them. Maybe you share a love for the same sport, work in a similar field of expertise or even so simple things as sharing the same hair color.
One mobile phone company in Germany signed letters to their customer with the same first name as the customer has – because people are significantly more willing to collaborate with someone who shares the same first name.
If you actively look for similarities you will soon notice a positive side effect: Not only will people like you more – you will also start to like them!
Which brings us to the strongest tool in our repertoire: People like people who like them first. We all want to belong and be seen as attractive and lovable persons. Look actively for things that you like in your partners – and don’t be to shy to make them a compliment.
Honest appreciation works wonders, if…
1. you are honest
2. you compliment a strength of character (honesty, creativity, braveness, accuracy, etc.)
3. you give proof (a specific experience where this character strength showed)
4. you keep it short (3-4 Sentences max!)
I regulary give seminars in companies – and i never experience the problems of other trainers: that the participants sit there, arms crossed and refuse to contribute. Why is that?
Because I make a special effort to learn something likeable about each participant in advance. Last year I gave a training at trivago GmbH. As usual I was quite early there and when the participants arrived, I could tell each of them something warm and personal. One Lady I told:
“I was curious who i will meet today. So when i prepared the seminar i looked up your facebook profile: I really admire your ability to think “outsite the box”. I saw on Facebook that your favorite book is “Glenkill” – a novel in which a group of sheeps tries to solve the murdercase of their shepherd. Someone who likes so unusual ideas will also find very creative solutions for our companies problems.”
This Lady was very sceptical when she entered the meeting room – but after that compliment she was the most active contributor in the seminar. I only needed to tell her what I really believed.
(if you wonder why I talk so long about giving honest appreciation: This is the most important tool to build strong relationships. To like people. Honestly: If you forget everything else I wrote, but start to actively look for things you like in people – then your life quality and professional success will increase dramatically.)
Hey, Let’s play a little game right now:
Look at the person next to you. Ask yourself: What do I respect most about this person? Is she honest? Smart? warmhearted? A leader? Something else? Pick the one character feature that you respect most about this person.
Then ask yourself: “In which situation did I last experienced this quality in this person?”
Your statement should include:
1. The exact time.
2. The exact place
3. Which people where involved
4. What happened
Be short – one sentence for each point – but as specific as poosible.
Why don’t you go ahead and tell the person next to you what you like about her – and where you last saw this?
PS: You can even tell your partner why you do this exercise. A honest compliment will work anyway.
The last tool to increase sympathy is physical attractiveness. Luckily for people like me, we are most attracted to features that are closest to the average look of people – and to ourself.
In one study participants where shown a number of pictures that they should rate. Among them was also their own picture – but digitally altered into the opposite sex. This picture was rated “most attractive” by the biggest number of participants.
Practical application: If it doesn’t compromises deep believes of yours: Dress as the people around you dress. In a bank where a suit, in a startup jeans might be appropiate. Highlight the features that you share with those around you.
In Germany there is an ongoing discussion about the bandana (headscarf) that some islamic women wear. Germany has a section of turkish people who came to work in factories during the 60’s and 70’s. They often came from rural areas with low education and strict hierarchy.
Some turkish woman wear a headscarf because it highlights their culture i.e. the “ingroup” they belong to. For the same reason some germans get upset about this: They understand the headscarf as a statement that this women feel they belong to one ingroup (turkish) and explicitly not to another ingroup: the german society.
The way you dress will strongly influence the way you are perceived by others. Humans are like that. If you want to or not: Your choice of clothes will tell something about your attitude towards the society you are living in. You can either highlight what separates you or highlight what connects you. This is a choice that everyone has to make for themselve.
Bonus: The 6. and 7. way to build symphaty
I strongly believe in underpromise and overdeliver. Hence, the last two tips to build sympathy anywhere.
If someone is good to us we feel a strong obligation to respond possitively. Social psychology calls this the “rule of reciprocity”. People will go to great length to live up to an emotional debt. Especially when we do favors without being ask. Think proactively about how you could help the people in your life with their goals. Your boss, your colleagues, the people you love. Then do something good for them.
Ask for help
Human heart is a funny thing. If we help other people – then we usually like them more then before. Therefore, don’t be afraid to ask help from people. It will bring you closer together.
Germany needs smart, skilled and motivated people like you and your friends. Which of them do you admire for their will to constantly improve their skills? Help them and us and sent them this article.
When did you experience that common interests made a difference for your career? Share your insights and leave a comment!
Chris Pyak is a writer and business coach. He is specialised in building cooperation in intercultural and virtual teams. Chris Pyak is available for speaking, coaching and training.
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