We once organized white water rafting as part of our company’s teambuilding exercise. I was grouped with three other young ladies, all of whom were my direct reports and we were assigned one experienced guide to help us navigate through the challenging rapids. As all of us were inexperienced paddlers, we obediently followed in sync whenever the guide barked out orders. Ten to fifteen minutes, after getting quite acquainted with the rafting process, I was surprised to find one of my teammates taking the lead in barking out “Left!”, “Right!”, ”Paddle backward!” even before the guide needed to do so. The rest of us felt extremely amused, but we all paddled along to her orders and enjoyed an incredibly fun day out in nature.
My teammate was in her early 20s and inexperienced, yet she felt confident enough to take over for a short period of time from the older and more experienced guide once she had a good grasp of the rafting process. While her display of confidence in a Malaysian context may be uncommon (especially since the task of giving out instructions is usually left to superiors), it made her stand out as potential leadership material. As most would agree, the ability to project confidence is an important aspect of leadership. Leaders need to be able to confidently lead, be heard and take control of matters.
Interestingly, confidence is projected and perceived differently across cultures. Our culture, education and upbringing have a direct bearing on how we display confidence. According to surveys, Asian countries often rank among the lowest in self-esteem or confidence. What are some ways in which Malaysian cultural values might cause us to be perceived as lacking in confidence and how can we adapt to project the confidence needed to become a global communicator?
- As indirect communicators, we often find it a challenge to state things directly as it is, especially if we are speaking to someone superior in rank, status or age. International colleagues from more decisive cultures might find us to be ‘beating around the bush’ as it were and associate it with a lack of confidence. When speaking to such ones, you can adapt by injecting more directness into your communication by being simple and clear in your message.
- The fear of losing face often hinders us from speaking up at meetings or contributing ideas when directly asked to do so in front of an audience. Certain Anglo cultures project confidence by taking what is essentially their opinion and stating it as a fact. Perhaps you find this to be true when your international colleagues speak loudly and over each other during meetings. To ensure you do not get lost in the conversation, prepare well in advance by understanding the objectives of the meeting, anticipating questions and noting down your well researched ideas so that you can confidently share them when it is your turn to do so.
- Our tendency to engage in double-voiced discourse can also cause others to perceive us as being hesitant and unsure individuals. To display more confidence in your speech, you can learn to omit negative talk especially at the beginning of your sentences. Instead of saying “This might not be the best idea but…” you can say “Here’s what I think, can you let me know how you feel about it?” Or replace “I’m sorry to disturb you, but can I…” with “Do you have a moment for me to discuss something with you?” You can still speak respectfully without casting yourself in a negative or self-critical light.
- The Malaysian education system has groomed us with the mind set of obediently doing only what we have been told to do. As such, a lack of initiative on our part can cause us to be perceived as unconfident and fearful of taking risks. In such cases, you can adapt by not just completing tasks that have been assigned to you but by being alert to opportunities of going the extra mile and adding value to the work that you do.
An individual who knows how to project confidence at the appropriate time and in an appropriate manner can easily gain trust and respect from others, be a good candidate for global prospects and be a highly valued staff member in any organization. Our cross-cultural program ‘Communicating Effectively Across Cultures’ can help you to learn how different cultures view confidence and how to display confidence in your communication with others as you work globally.
By: Boleh Blogger