My Word is my Bond

12 years, 1 month ago


Jonne Ceserani argues that closely bonded teams are vital to high performance and that we all need to craft our skills in communication and relationships with the same energy that we give to our professional skills.

Bonding with others, particularly cross border, is a quick way to success or, when you get it wrong, instant failure

English may be the international language of business, but learn to say “hello” in the languages of those for whom it is a second language and you are already ahead of the game.

Life (and business) is about creating successful bonds with others and you will only be successful if you consistently create and maintain trust with others. Research suggests that every one thing you do that destroys trust needs five trust building experiences to rebalance the situation. I suggest it may be worse than that.

Breaking down trust is easy, as the European executive discovered, arriving in India and telling the audience, “I am here to kill off a few sacred cows…” To develop and maintain successful bonds you need outstanding skills with communication and relationship creation and to keep them front of mind all of the time.

Clarity of intention

Consider how often you fail to communicate clearly your intentions even in your own local office – cross border relationships offer more opportunities to get it wrong. Don’t invite your Jewish or Muslim colleague for a pig roast, be careful where you put your thumb up, don’t swat the fly on your Buddhist colleague’s desk, don’t be the first to shake the hand of your Japanese guest. Just a few examples of how to get into trouble.

People focus energy on professional expertise and are embarrassed if seen as incompetent. Put the same energy into communication and relationship skills if you are serious about cross border working. Few of us do. Find out what you need to know about another culture before making formal contact even if you are members of the same organisation and share a “common corporate language”; contact their embassy if you can’t find another source.

The box in the diagram represents a battery. We have energy, like a battery. When feeling threatened energy is used on survival. When feeling supported energy is used for success. It is hard to focus on poetry when being chased up the road by a man with an axe, better to put your energy into running!

Generally Europeans are happy to speak up critically in a business meeting, including being critical of the bosses or their ideas. Ask the same from most far eastern cultures and they will feel deeply embarrassed and threatened.

Know your audience so you know what to say.

The tools of the trade

The only experience anyone has of you is your behaviour, everything else they are guessing or imagining. Make sure your behaviour – words, tones, gestures – communicates what you intended. Check out what someone intended to communicate to you.

Our experiences of life are all different, supported by the values, beliefs and cultural norms that lead us to decide what is right and wrong in our business and social environment.

Creating close bonds is hard enough when working with people with similar backgrounds. Add in the complexity of different cultures and social backgrounds that abound in cross border situations and you have to work very hard to get clear communication.

Language is one of the main tools of communication and clearly can be helpful. It can also be a minefield. Language is a short cut, a series of labels to express a ‘common’ experience that we can easily describe. Ask for a glass of water and you’ll probably get one, but do you want still or sparkling. Even at this simple level the possibilities for error are there. “Nipping out for a fag” will get some odd looks in The USA.

Stay self-aware

Terminology is increasingly used to try and describe outrageously large volumes of experience and sometimes causes more problems than it solves. Think very carefully about the language you use and stay self-aware of what you are really communicating. Check out what was received.

Collaboration works best with a common language and common ways of working. We have a language for our professions, but usually not for collaborative effort. Be explicit before you start your meeting or teleconference by agreeing rules for how to work together.

Think about how you are experienced by others, since it may be very different from what you intended.

Trust is a delicate thing. If you are naturally introspective your apparently withdrawn behaviour may be experienced as criticism. If naturally boisterous your natural behaviour may be experienced as bullying by quieter folk.

In meetings be explicit about what you are saying/doing/intending with your words and behaviour so that people no longer have to guess or imagine and maybe get it wrong.

The wood carver uses simple tools – chisels and a hammer – with mastery and total focus in order to create beauty. Do not be fooled by the simplicity of the tools of communication and relationships – they work remarkably well when applied in an honest manner.


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The Author

Jonne Ceserani

Jonne Ceserani is Managing Director of Power and Grace, a company he formed 5 years ago. Jonne works with clients to help them integrate creativity, innovation & leadership in order to achieve high performance. He works with individuals, small teams, whole enterprises and conferences, tailoring the approach to match the audience. He is an internationally published author. Previously he was a partner in Synectics, an innovation consultancy and before that a manager with DuPont (UK) Limited. He is a Fellow of The Royal Society of Arts.

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