M370: A Deeper Message Went Missing

PuzzleEarthEvery day since March 8, the unexplained disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 was featured as the top news story on every major network. Experts from every industry and background were called upon for their thoughts, opinions and speculations about what could have happened. Expertise came from the fields of aeronautics, aviation, meteorology, oceanography, geography, security, terrorism. Yet one area of expertise was missing: intercultural communication.

For me, the aha moment came eleven days into the search for the vanished airplane. The media reported that on that day, officials from Thailand brought forward an important piece of information about a signal that had been detected within their air space. When asked why this information had not been shared earlier, Thai officials simply responded, “No one asked us.” The viewing audience must have been shocked to hear this. However, I understood the deeper meaning behind those words. I have travelled to Thailand. It is a beautiful country with beautiful people. As a culture, they do not draw attention to themselves, and they have a high respect for authority. It made sense to me that they would not come forward without being asked first.

Throughout the extensive media coverage, there were no conversations about the challenge of working with 26 different countries who were involved in solving this mystery. Whether actively involved in the search by land or by sea or being within the speculated flight path. the countries involved in this mission have vast cultural differences.

Westerners watched in disbelief as a Chinese man kicked a news videographer’s equipment out of frustration and deep grief after being told that the latest evidence revealed that the plane went down in the vast Indian Ocean, even though there was no solid physical evidence as proof. This action taught a lesson about the differences between high context and low context cultures. Respect is a national value within China. With media descending upon the victims’ families in a photo-taking frenzy within this highly sensitive moment, no respect was shown to the Chinese families. High context and low context culture (also known as the iceberg model) is the work of Edward T. Hall, an American anthropologist who created the field of intercultural communication. China is a high context culture, where communication is less verbally explicit. This means that shoving a microphone in someone’s face, seeking a reaction to the loss of a loved one (in a public venue, no less) is an affront to that culture.

Dutch social psychologist Geert Hofstede, the founder of comparative intercultural research, created the cultural dimensions theory that recognized that people differ across cultures in specific dimensions of values. His brilliant scholarly research began when he worked for IBM in the 1960s. His work can be found on the website, www.geert-hofstede.com. He is one of the foremost authorities in intercultural communication alive in the world today. Yet no one called him for an interview.

Amidst the large story of reporting the day-to-day findings of this horrific event, another story angle was completely missed. To me, M370 provides a fascinating case study in intercultural communication and how countries that are culturally diverse can find a way to work together to accomplish one common mission.

Events like this remind us that we are indeed part of a global society. To maneuver our way through this vast, unknown area, we must honor and respect our cultural differences. When we learn from the experience, we must pass on our knowledge so that others can learn.

Spring Cleaning is Both Ritual and Metaphor

Detail of a cherry treeWhen I was growing up, my mother took Spring cleaning very seriously. It was that one time of year when everything, and I mean everything, was cleaned. Walls. Venetian blinds. Floors. Closets. Cupboards. Carpets. It was both a cherished yet dreaded annual ritual. Cherished because it was a symbol of putting the cold, gray days of Winter behind us and opening up the home to the freshness of Spring. Dreaded because what child “loves” to do house work? My tolerance came from knowing that I would receive a slightly larger allowance that week for the extra work performed.

Rituals – like Spring cleaning – get us through life. They serve as milestones of what lies behind and what lies ahead. Another season is ending and another beginning. Another year has passed. When that ritual serves as a metaphor, that’s when it gets really interesting.

The activity and motion of Spring cleaning can be invigorating. Don’t give me that look. Hear me out. When you throw yourself into chores with complete abandon, each completed task leaves you feeling renewed and fresh, just like the home you are cleaning. Apply that action as a metaphor to your life, and see what happens.

What lies hidden in your closets that needs to be cleaned out? Old thoughts? Old beliefs? Longtime grudges? Dust off those cobwebs in your mind. Give your thinking a good scrubbing. Clean up your behavior.

Here’s a great exercise, and it doesn’t even require any real equipment. Imagine seeing a slate in front of you. With your hand, simply wipe that slate clean by making a light sweeping motion. Wipe the slate clean. It’s a fresh start, and an effective visualization tool. Apply it to any part of your life. Now imagine your old ways of thinking that can be swept clean.

With the Winter that we have experienced this year, we are all ready for Spring. What old thinking or behavior can you dismiss and free yourself for better days ahead?

Connect Across the Generations


Courtney & Christine connecting

I recently found myself in an interesting position: Being the oldest person at my table at a professional organization’s awards event. Surrounding me were young professionals and college students in their 20s and 30s. As a Baby Boomer, I could have easily told myself “I don’t have anything in common with these young people.” That’s not my style. Instead, I considered it an opportunity to engage in stimulating conversation.

My conversation partner for the evening, Courtney, is a college senior majoring in marketing management/supply chain and a scholarship recipient. As we shared information during dinner, I was struck by her poised professionalism, intelligence and ambition. What impressed me the most: She is completing her fifth internship. That’s right. Fifth. With each internship experience, she has expanded her knowledge about different industries and marketing/supply chain functions.

I couldn’t help but recall some of the people who have participated in my communication workshops over the years. While discussing generational communication, invariably someone would say, “Generation Y has a sense of entitlement” or “That generation hasn’t had to work for anything…everything has been handed to them.” I wished those people could have been sitting with Courtney and me that evening. They would not have been so quick to judge her or her generation.

When you have an opportunity to converse with someone who is a generation or two younger than you, consider these simple tips:

Respect. When you show respect to another person, it will come right back to you.

Open your mind. Approach the conversation openly; don’t be judgmental. All too often, people make false assumptions about young people.

Listen. Really listen to their life experience. What is different for them? When it comes down to it, is there really that much difference between what they want out of their life and career than you did at that age? You had dreams once, didn’t you? Hopefully you still do.

Be interesting and interested. Keep the conversation moving between the two of you by being interested in what the other person is saying and by adding value to the conversation. Courtney was equally as interested in me, curious about my career path and life. We kept the conversation balanced throughout dinner.

Be open to new ideas. As I struggled to focus and snap our “selfie” with one hand, Courtney showed me how to use the volume button on the side of my iPhone to snap the picture. Brilliant! I welcomed the new approach.

I have mentored many young people throughout my career and will continue to do so. Anything that I can do to help launch their careers or provide guidance, I am willing to do. Courtney and I are now connected through LinkedIn and I anticipate great news and achievements in the months and years to come.

I learned a great deal about Courtney, her background, interests and dreams because we engaged in meaningful dialogue. What can you learn from someone who is younger than you? How can you open your mind and be fully receptive to the experience? How can you be supportive of their hopes and dreams?

Oscar’s Eloquence

oscarsThe presentation style of this year’s top Academy Award recipients for acting can be summed up in one word: eloquence. There were no awkward moments, no lengthy or boring remarks that were read from notes, no fillers (“Oh my God”…”I don’t know what to say”…”I know there’s someone I’m forgetting”…”They’re telling me to wrap it up”), and thankfully no F bombs. This year’s acceptance speeches were refreshingly meaningful and heartfelt. Here are the high points and their lessons:

Jared Leto (Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Dallas Buyers Club): The first top winner of the evening, Leto’s eloquent remarks set the tone for the evening and also raised the bar for other recipients to follow. He shared an intimate story about a teenage woman (who he later revealed as his mother) struggling to rear two small children on her own in the early 1970s. Her determination served as a positive role model for him. He used the platform to acknowledge the 36 million victims who have been lost to AIDS (the focal point of the movie). His unselfish closing remark contained a powerful WOW factor: “To those of you out there who have ever felt injustice because of who you are or who you love, tonight I stand here in front of the world with you and for you.” The presentation lesson: Have a killer closing.

Lupita Nyong’o (Best Actress in a Supporting Role, 12 Years a Slave): With graceful radiance, this first-time nominee’s remarks complemented her elegant stature. She spoke of how her character, Patsy, a slave, guided her in this powerful role, and that she offered her Oscar to the spirit of Patsy. She also reminded children all over the world that “your dreams are valid.” The presentation lesson: Speak from the heart.

Cate Blanchett (Best Actress in a Leading Role, Blue Jasmine): Ever-gracious, ever-gorgeous in her style, Blanchett began her remarks with humor by telling the audience to “Sit down. You’re too old to stand.” Throughout her remarks, she thanked everyone in a light, humorous style. She used the platform to remind the audience that female-centric movies are more than a niche market; that they are profitable and audiences support them. The presentation lesson: Use humor tastefully; present messages that reflect who you are.

Matthew McConaughey (Best Actor in a Leading Role, Dallas Buyers Club): The framing of his remarks, with three short yet powerful messages, each with a personal story, made McConaughey’s comments real and memorable. Those three are: Someone to look up to, something to look forward to, and someone to chase. He ended his remarks with his signature saying, “Alright, alright, alright!” The presentation lesson: Add the power and punch of personal stories to core messages.

Each of these talented actors spoke from a heartfelt emotional place. Rather than using impersonal scripted notes, they chose to be fully present in the moment and speak with sincere gratitude and purpose. In your next presentation, speak from a place of eloquence and authenticity. Your audience will feel more connected to you and your message.

P.S. – If you want to understand how to hold an audience in the palm of your hand, watch the video of Bono’s performance. You could hear a pin drop when Bono and U2 performed an acoustic, stripped down version of Ordinary Love, nominated for Best Original Song from the movie, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. As Bono moved closer to the audience, kneeling before them, inviting them in, and hitting those high notes, it was…sheer perfection.