Welcome to the SUSS series of podcasts that shares, questions, and dives into all things personal development. Because learning never stops, especially after graduation. This series will share insights, ideas, and advice on shaping ourselves to prepare for a future of uncertainties.
Previously on SUSS Podcast…
…cultures are very complex phenomena of human history. In fact, there are many ways of looking at culture. One way is to compare it to a scale of high and low context. As we mentioned, context is very important. According to Edward Hall, in a high context culture, communication is carried by implicit messages in which meaning is not encoded into words. But supplied by non-verbal cues in the context.
It's easier for you to really know that there are people who are different from you and you need to adapt to the way they communicate in order to cross that bridge, or barrier.
I'm reflecting on all the communications that I have had with people across different cultures. And also thinking very hard on Youyi, the example that you gave. This really explains all these intricacies and subtle differences that it's so difficult for us to understand and just like, ‘Okay, Google translate this.’ It cannot be translated in this manner.
So to build on both your points, I'm also just wondering if generational influences add to the complexities of cross-cultural communication. As if it's not complicated enough. But I'm just thinking, because different generations grew up in different cultural contexts. Like how both of you have shared at the beginning, so much has changed in the last decade. How does generational influences add to this complexity?
Let's talk about the generation gap. Okay, now that we have Gen Z in the workforce, I'm spotting a few right here. Let's talk about how the Gen Z grew up. You probably grew up with parents pointing a camera at you from the moment you were born. Probably had YouTube as your nanny. Did that happen? I'm guessing yes. Or even grew up playing TikTok. And your vocabulary can consist of images, videos, animations, everything that's happening really fast and short.
And the social interactions, it happens over the screens with a lot of stickers and emoticons with less words. So I do believe that for the younger generation, there's always a lot of messages packed within a very short frame of time. Now, how does this affect the way the younger generation communicate and how do we engage this generation at work?
So there are some companies such as Gucci. They have tackled this problem. It's not a problem; it's just an issue to work with within the company. By creating a shadow board - that's a group of non-executive employees at work, who work directly with the senior executives on strategic initiatives. They do this to leverage on the younger groups’ insights and to diversify the perspectives that the executives are more exposed to. So internally this can help them in engaging the younger employees and externally to speak to the younger consumers.
Now let's consider Prada, another fashion house. I think I'm quoting all the fashion examples here. But it is so real, because since 2014, I think they have experienced a decline in sales. But it was only three years later in 2017, the company admitted that they had made a mistake.
I'm quoting a CEO here. He said, “They were slow in realising the importance of digital channels and the blogging online influencers, which are disrupting the industry.” Since then they have embarked on a pretty strong comeback, but let's think about this at a personal level. What does all this mean to us? As a professional, as a brand, as a company? Are we doing social media right? Are we keeping up with best practices?
Unfortunately, I have to say I have seen so many highly capable professionals putting themselves on social media just because they think they have to and they have no other choices. But without thorough research, they ended up blindly following TikTok trends or producing content that doesn't help their personal brand. Or they just bring the same thing from one platform to another, hoping to duplicate the same results. So very often this content, they can end up like fish out of water and it can be hard to watch.
Susan, what about yourself?
Again, I would like to draw on Edward Hall’s theory of cross-cultural communication. Information can be conveyed at different speeds. So different generations are attuned to different speeds in communication. If the information sent at the wrong speed will not be received with someone who is expecting a different speed.
So for example, a headline, a short video, like the TikTok videos, cartoons belong to fast messages. Whereas a book, an artwork, releases messages quite slowly. So people who are geared to a slow message, may miss the fast message and vice versa.
So the younger generation who are digital natives, definitely are geared towards fast messages. So in order to communicate well with them, older generations must adapt to faster gears and then communicate using videos and calls. And vice-versa.
So we just have to adapt. Make sure that it's the right medium, and pace that our target audience is receiving the information. And I think both of you mentioned a lot about, of course the virtual environment, especially at work and the Gen Zs who are at the workplaces with us right now. So what are some of the challenges that you are witnessing, that we currently face in this virtual environment?
I would think it's the mindset. It’s to understand the fact that we need to keep up, because this is happening. It is going to evolve with or without you. So what do you want to do about it? Do you want to be part of it? Think of it as a movement; think of it as progression. The way we communicate changes. Our medium changes. But before we get onto social media, be it for your brand or for any other purposes, you have to understand: 1) What is the purpose of these different platforms? 2) What are the different communication styles that work on this platform?
3) And what is your purpose for being on it? 4) What are the kind of content or style that's in line with your branding? And do your research. Ask around; be humble, get professional help. It is okay because this is not (what) we grew up with. So it is okay if you are only picking it up right now. I mean, take the possible cultural differences into consideration. This is so important. I can never stress it enough.
Does anyone remember the Dolce & Gabbana advertisement? When they had a Chinese model eating Italian dishes with chopsticks? That did not go too well with the audience, right? It was such an expensive mistake. But it was a lesson learned. And I think we have to understand that this is part of the learning process. For anybody.
In fact, digital space has become more of a global space. More people from different linguistics, and cultural backgrounds are communicating more often online. So it is now even more challenging to navigate between the nuances of cross-linguistic and cross-cultural communications because words and expressions are captured through camera lens and have long lasting effects.
A country manager will host more online meetings with staff members who are located in different continents. Instead of meeting them face to face over lunches or drinking in pubs,online meetings have become the integral platform for the managers to engage their team members. So they always have to be careful in planning the start of their meeting; starting with the right words in the right tone, using the right expression. Anything that goes wrong may cast a long shadow in the minds and the hearts of the team members and have an adverse impact on the team’s morale.
I definitely hear you both. But understanding cross-cultural communication and navigating all these complexities,it's definitely not something that we can acquire overnight. However, I'm a fan of small changes that we can make and work towards. So, I also want to ask the two of you, especially Youyi, would you have any tips on how we can improve our own communication? Both of you really gave me a lot of reflection to think about post this session too. Perhaps we can start with, in the context of a virtual environment, say, Zoom meetings.
Okay. Sure. Let me just bring out my prop right here.
For the context of everybody, Youyi is doing a video that we'll be able to view as well. So if our listeners would like to visually see the tips and tricks, please hop over to the website (Click on the link above the transcript).
Three tips to up your Zoom game and something that I promise you can implement immediately.
Tip number one: Slow down. The audio is a really unique medium. Your listeners need your help by slowing down to make sure they can capture every word that you said, and they can process your key ideas.
Tip number two: Always make sure you're not looking at yourself on screen. This is me looking at myself on screen. But instead look at the camera, to create that engagement with your audience
Now tip number three: I'm still talking about non-verbals here. I'm talking about your body language. So you might be thinking, how do I use my body language in a Zoom environment? Well, we do this by making sure that your audience can see you. What do I mean? Firstly, frame yourself; making sure that your audience is able to see you from the chest up and leaving a little bit of head room in between.
And this is how they can see your gestures, and you can use it to enhance your message. Second thing, your angle. Unfortunately, this is something that I see way too often, is to have the camera angle really, really low and pointed upwards. This happens a lot with people who use their laptop, or their phone in a Zoom meeting. So if the camera is pointing upward, like this, it's tilting up. What do your audience see?
Nostrils, and your chin.
And if you have a double chin, okay, not a good idea. And if your camera is placed way too high, say you are working with a computer with an additional camera on top of it. What are we looking at?
Just your forehead. (Youyi: Yes.)
We don't want that. How do we set the camera? Always make sure that it is at eye level. Eye level meaning your eyes and the camera are parallel. And this is how you look into the camera.
Lastly, the light. Always make sure there’s light on you instead of behind you, that will be back light. When there's light on you, you look bright and you become the centre of attention on your screen. Here's one more tip. If you want to look sharper on-screen, you can have your light coming to you at a 45-degree angle.
So this will help you to look sharper, and also more defined on-screen. And there you go, tips to up your Zoom game.
That was really useful. Thank you for the demonstration. If our listeners would like to see the short video that we just did with Youyi, please hop over to the SUSS website (Click on the link above the transcript). So coming back to you, Susan, as a linguist academic to help us summarise and close up this discussion, would you see cross-cultural and cross-linguistic communication as more of an art or a science?
Navigating cross-cultural and cross-linguistic communication is both a science and an art. A science because it is widely researched, governed by theories, derived from multiple disciplines, such as linguistics, psychology, communication studies, cultural studies, and translation studies. There's a system to follow. There are rules to be based. But as an art it requires creativity. And it will create pleasure if communication is done well. So, there's a different level of communication; good communication or bad communication. So that's why I say it’s really an art just as how Youyi has demonstrated, by executing a good way of communication.
Yes. And, Youyi, you know, you’re a practitioner, is it more of an art or a science?
Well, I definitely agree with Susan. Personally for me, the information downloading, meaning my learning process itself, is probably more of a science than an art at this point. Because I'm taking information; I'm trying to process it; I'm trying to learn it.
So it is a systematic process, like what Susan has mentioned. But when it comes to delivery, when it comes to my output, yes, it does give me a lot of pleasure, like what Susan has mentioned. So this is an amazing art form that I strongly encourage everyone to give it a try. To be curious, because this is a learning process and we have to understand that it's not going to be perfect. But you are going to feel great when it's done correctly.
I can definitely see both of you are really passionate about this topic. How do you think our world will be made a better place if all of us learn to communicate better?
Currently, as you can see, the world is filled with conflicts. And conflicts rise from lack of communication. Not only at a personal level, but also at social and national level. Very often, people assume others from different cultures or locations that they could think or feel and behave as the same way as they do. But this is least true. If one makes an effort to understand another's culture and history, then there will certainly be less confrontation or conflicts.
So to build a better world, one really needs to be open-minded, have the desire to learn and to know more about other cultures. And also, develop sensitivity to the cultural differences.
Yes, in this day and age, especially for the world that we are living in right now. The news that we are getting through the media, I do believe that communication is more essential than ever. And today, after having this privilege of spending so much time with Susan again, I have to say a lot of things are coming back to me now. These are gifts that were given to me when I was in Susan's programme. The understanding of collectivism versus all the other different options on the spectrum, and how culture can be so diverse and shaped the way we think, we act, we speak. I think this is the foundation that I needed, even before I knew it, before I embarked on this journey of doing travelogues and travelling the world and talking to people.
So after travelling, covering stories from different parts of the world, all these years, I'm starting to believe that an important way for us to find that purpose, that meaning in life, is to build meaningful relationships.
And we do that one at a time. Speak to people you care about; speak to people you’ve just met. Try to understand that, ‘Hey, where is the person coming from? If I'm feeling threatened, do I have a good reason for feeling this way? If not, ‘Hey, why don't I keep an open mind and just see what the person has to say?’ Because this itself is a learning process; this is personal growth. And I do believe that this is a journey that can lead to your personal fulfilment, professional success, and as cliche as it sounds, but I do believe in it. It might just help make the world a better place.
Now I can understand why you were one of the top students of Susan’s class.
I was number three. There were two ahead of me.
Thank you so much to both of you. It's been such a great pleasure speaking with you both in understanding, and unravelling the mystery behind the way we communicate. So I really learned so much; it's a lot of food for thought for myself as well to understand cultural complexity, the need to foster sensitivities when communicating and to Youyi’s last point - to keep learning because communication is ever evolving, and we all need to put in a little bit more effort together in order to connect better and make this world a better place. So thank you so much.
Thank you, Vivian.
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