Interview with Gayle Cotton
You are a cross-cultural communication expert. What in your opinion is the most important cross-cultural competence everybody should have?
Be proactive and learn something about the cultures you work with
When you work with different cultures, it’s important to be proactive or you will likely be reactive! Too often we assume that people from other cultures communicate the same way we do, or that they conduct business in a similar fashion. This is clearly not the case.
There are cultural distinctions about what is considered respectful or not, attire preferences, cultural differences in how direct or indirect communication should be, as well as appropriate and inappropriate greetings, differences in formality, language, and what is considered to be “on time” to name a few.
If you don’t know something about cultures you interact with, you could jeopardize the relationship. Unintentional faux pas are difficult to recover from – especially offensive gestures. Awareness is always the 1st step!
In your career you were confronted with a lot of prejudices during your time working in Europe. From your personal point of view, what are the best ways to overcome cross-cultural prejudice?
Be willing to adapt your communication style to create a comfortable rapport
When I first started working in Geneva, Switzerland in the mid-90s, I had 3 strikes against me. Being a multicultural expert, the first strike was that ‘I’m American’. Their perception – “What do Americans know about different cultures?” The second was that ‘I’m female’, and at that time it wasn’t as common for women to work in executive positions. The third strike was that ‘I’m blond’– and I found out that the “dumb blonde jokes” were global! I learned to consciously adapt my communication style, and business approach, to create rapport and respect with the different cultures I worked with.
Who or what inspires you most?
All the magnificent cultural distinctions around the world
For example, I love the fact the most of the Asian cultures offer business cards with both hands and slight bow. They also offer gifts and other things with both hands, which is a respectful gesture towards the person being offered something. I also appreciate the European way of getting to know someone better before jumping straight into business. I really enjoy the socialization of having a coffee or meal together without discussing business. I’ve adopted many customs from around the world, and I think I’ve become a better person for it.
You also talk about self-management, you claim that you can make the difference between being in the red or the black of the time bank. Don’t you think some people are just better organised than others?
No one seems to have enough time, and yet we all have all there is!
While some people are naturally be more organized than others, I think that for most people organization is a learned skill. Time doesn’t carry over from day to day like a credit. We all get 24 hours each morning, and how we use it is up to us. Time is the most valuable gift we have, and we determine what that gift will be each day. No one wants to live with regrets, and organization will help us maximize our time and minimize stress as well.
Do you have a favourite experience from your speaking career?
I just love speaking and helping others see something is a new or different way
I’ve had the opportunity to travel and speak all over the world, and there is something very memorable about each engagement. I think one of the funniest experiences I’ve had was when the elastic on my skirt broke and they were trying to wire me by tucking the microphone in my panty hose. Come to find out – my microphone was on and the audience heard everything. I learned a lesson that day!