In today’s fast-paced, multi-national, interdependent world, how do you talk about important topics with people whose specialty, culture, or physical location make it difficult to freely and clearly speak your mind? Here are some tips for bridging the gap—whether it’s across departments or across oceans.
- Avoid e-mail. When stakes are high, opinions vary, and emotions run strong, never let e-mail replace talking. Complex topics deserve real-time, two-way communication. If you can’t meet face-to-face, talk on the phone.
- Tentatively share concerns. Express your views and then tentatively share your concerns. Listen for hesitance from the other side. If you address both sides of an issue, you make it clear that it’s okay to raise differing opinions.
- Invite differing views. After you’ve shared your view, conclude by making it safe for others to honestly express their opposing views.
Ask, “What might I have missed here?” or “What do we need to do differently to make this work for you?”
- Allow time. In some cultures, any quick response to a suggestion is seen as immature. When you give people time to review a proposal with their own team, it provides them with a chance to work on how they express their views and to make any necessary translations.
Remember, your goal should be to jointly come to a shared understanding. Physical, emotional, or intellectual distance calls for careful and honest dialogue.