6 practical tips to enhance cultural relations in Asia, a speech by Dr Margaret Byrne


    Dr Margaret Byrne is a management consultant, executive coach and researcher on leadership and change management. She was interviewed at the AICD’s 2015 Company Directors Conference in Kuala Lumpur about the need for Australian business leaders to develop greater ‘cultural competency’

    Over the past months, we have showcased Dr Byrne's insights into how Australian businesses and boards can improve their cultural awareness and bridge the cultural gap.

    6 practical tips to enhance cultural relations in Asia - Dr Margaret Byrne3.14

    Q&A with Dr Margaret Byrne4.48

    This month, we conclude our series with 6 practical tips from Dr Byrne on how Australian boards and directors can enhance their cultural relations in Asia:

    1. Listen more and talk less: Dr Byrne suggests that “the preferred way of communicating in Asia is listening centred, and not speaking centred”. She suggests that certain behaviours, such as being assertive and independent, may be perceived as leadership traits in Australia, but “do not travel well” in other cultures.

    2. Practice picking up hints and inferences: Dr Byrne reiterates the importance of indirectness, and the propensity in Asian cultures to communicate by inference, indirectness or implication. “There’s the absence of yes, and, even more worrying, the absence of no.” She advises boards and businesses to practice picking up on hints and non-verbal cues in interactions with Asian counterparties.

    3. Build rapport and trust: Dr Byrne emphasises the importance of rapport and trust in enhancing cultural interactions. Trust is “emotional money in the bank”, which businesses and individuals can draw upon when there is a problem. Australians, she argues, “tend to demonstrate trust in the way it would work for us, [and] not in the way that works for the counterpart”. She recommends Australians seek to establish trust in Asia by demonstrating qualities such as compatibility and accessibility. She argues that competence is not ranked as highly in Asia as it is in Australia in terms of developing trust.

    4. Clarify meaning: Dr Byrne suggests that Australian business leaders should regularly seek to clarify meaning and clear up ambiguities.

    5. Share the intention behind words, but remain strategic: Dr Byrne suggests that Australian business leaders should not be afraid to share the underlying meaning and intention behind their words, but should strike a balance by understanding the appropriate forum for discussion. For example, Dr Byrne suggests that decision making in Asia is a lot more like caucusing and lobbying than open negotiation. “The ground work has to be set up outside the boardroom”, suggests Dr Byrne. “The conversation inside the boardroom is…more about ratifying and explicating decisions that have already been set up.”

    6. Be authentic, but adjust: Dr Byrne suggests that Australian business leaders should be authentic and sincere to help make long-term connections with Asian counterparties. At the same time, she argues that Australians need to understand that their sincerity and good intentions may come across differently to other cultures. “If I had to pick an Achilles heel for Australians operating anywhere in Asia, it would be [their] super egalitarian hearts”.

    This concludes our series on Asian cultural awareness. For previous installments, please click on the links below:

    Cultural risk: Raising awareness about cultural assumptions, expectations and preferences

    How Australian boards and businesses can bridge the cultural gap with Asia

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