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Managing Marketing: Building Powerful Relationships Through Direct And Respectful Communication

Clement_Toulemonde

Managing Marketing is a podcast hosted by TrinityP3 Founder and Global CEO, Darren Woolley. Each podcast is a conversation with a thought-leader, professional or practitioner of marketing and communications on the issues, insights and opportunities in the marketing management category. Ideal for marketers, advertisers, media and commercial communications professionals.

Clement Toulemonde is the Partner in Charge of International Development at Interactifs, a company that teaches how to deal with others more simply to be more effective, more respectful and to feel better. It is a role his life groomed him to fulfill, having grown up in New Zealand, South Korea, Morocco and Australia. He talks about the role direct and respectful communication plays in building powerful relationships in business and in life. Clement shares the Interactif discipline and discusses the way the approach operates across cultures and across the world. 

You can listen to the podcast here:

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Transcription:

Darren:

Welcome to Managing Marketing, a weekly podcast where we discuss the issues and opportunities facing marketing, media and advertising with industry thought leaders and practitioners.

Today I’m sitting down with Clement Toulemonde, the International Development Director & Partner at Interactifs the social intelligence company. Welcome, Clement.

Clement:

Thank you, it’s a pleasure to be here.

Darren:

Welcome to Sydney. It’s a bit like coming home for you because you lived here for a while and that’s where we first met.

Clement:

Indeed, I lived here for 12 years about 10 years back, did my university here, started my career here, my Dad moved here a while back (was the head of Unilever) and it became a bit like a 2nd home to us. So, I’m glad to be back.

Darren:

I’m going to use what I know of Interactif’s methodology on you and say the purpose of this podcast is actually to explore the methodology and philosophy, how that applies across multiple cultures and even, if we have time, explore how that works in particular categories within business.

Have I done a good job at setting up the purpose?

Clement:

You have.

Darren:

What would be your purpose in setting up this podcast?

Clement:

For me the purpose beyond spending some time with someone I like and exchanging some interesting ideas its also getting exposure. There’s nothing more valuable than people relaying our message, which I think needs to be heard. We have some big growth ambitions around the world, especially in AsiaPac (Australia and New Zealand). So this is an opportunity for me to get our message across.

Darren:

Happy to help.

Clement:

Thank you.

Darren:

I remember the first time we had a conversation about what you were doing. You had been at Capgemini and before that PWC.

Clement:

Indeed.

Darren:

Then suddenly you were working at this French company called Interactifs. I asked you what’s that about? And you said it’s about helping people understand and have better business relationships and interactions.

And I thought to myself , and many people do, but isn’t that just talking to each other? Is that a reaction you get from a lot of people?

Clement:

Not so much because generally the people we meet have already got an idea of what we do and the need we’re serving. Companies and business in general have matured to the fact that communication is important and it’s not just something that people have by default. It’s a skill that can be developed like anything else.

There are a few industry sectors still where that hasn’t been identified and I think communication, advertising and marketing in general is still a field where it’s lacking behind other sectors but when you look at banks, consulting services, professional services of all sorts, the automobile industry, the FMCGs; they’ve all identified that it’s absolutely core.

Take an example of a consulting firm or a bank. If you take the big names in the market, whether you go to company 1, 2 or 3 the offer is roughly the same. The profile of the people they hire is roughly the same, the processes they follow are roughly the same. The price at which they sell is roughly the same.

And what makes the difference is the person you end up speaking to and the question is do you want to buy it from them rather than from someone else? All other things being equal it’s becoming a big, big differentiator; the postures they adopt, the way they listen and speak. And it’s never a guarantee of us doing business together.

But if we end up not doing business together at least people should think I would have liked to.

Darren:

I’ve often found that sales people and marketers will believe that because they’re in a sales or communications role that they intuitively know how to communicate yet often they are the ones that build the relationship first before they get to the point of the meeting.

Clement:

Indeed. It’s not about whether people know how to or they don’t. I want to highlight something. I personally don’t use the word ‘to communicate’. That’s not what I focus on; I focus on relationships. Even between you and I, Darren, I can communicate really well with you and have a poor relationship—that’s possible.

And at the same time I can miscommunicate sometimes. We can get upset with each other but on the whole have quite a deep, trusting and productive relationship—that’s possible. Communication is a means, an important one but it’s not the guarantee of us wanting to do stuff together, being together or working together.

It’s not a guarantee. It’s a much broader and more complex thing than that simple tool which is pure communication.

Darren:

But communication is also how you define that. Communication is not just the words I say; it’s the way I say them, the posture I take, whether I’m clearly listening and taking onboard what you’re saying, processing that and then responding in an appropriate way, which is the foundation of how people align or understand each other’s values, position and purpose.

That’s trust. It would be very hard, I imagine, to build trust between two people without saying a word.

Clement:

Probably.

Darren:

That, from my perspective, is how essential communicating is to building relationships.

Clement:

Absolutely. But you can apply all the proper codes of communication technically and still have a degraded relationship. And that’s the point.

Darren:

It’s empathy isn’t it? Isn’t part of building a relationship and trust showing empathy for the other person?

Clement:

Yes.

Darren:

Putting yourself in their position.

Clement:

There’s an expression, ‘people are good with people’. But for some people are really good with people but when it actually comes to conversations for producing results they’re actually pretty poor. Because relationships, especially in the context of work, are not just about being liked; they’re about getting stuff done.

Unfortunately, when you talk about being good with people it forgets the production aspect of the conversation. If you ask anyone on earth; French, Australian, Chinese or Japanese, whether they’ve very senior or junior in a company, man or woman and regardless of their personality or the language they speak; when you ask them how they want to be spoken to, people will always say, ‘I want it to be direct and to the point as long as it’s polite and respectful.

Unfortunately, when you listen to the way conversations go, especially when the pressure is on, when there’s uncertainty, the fear of losing, conversations go in a very different direction to that. Direct becomes blunt and polite becomes obsequious and respect often becomes submissive.

This is why I talk about relationships. For me there is a real discipline behind it. This is one of the original aspects of what we do at Interactif. It’s not just about being good with people; it’s about having a process and a discipline about how the quality of that relationship, the esteem, trust, the respect and liking for each other, actually ends up producing something.

Then on the other extreme and what often troubles me with communication techniques (rather than a discipline which is what we do)—it’s very focused on the effectiveness side of things but it completely forgets the fact that I’m talking to somebody and they need to trust me.

And if you suspect at any given moment during a conversation that I’m applying a technique to you you’ll probably start to be quite wary of me, and rightly so. The whole challenge is how can I be direct and to the point whilst being polite and respectful at the same time which is something people feel they have to choose between too often.

I know, having been doing this for 10 years now, that this is the case.

Darren:

It’s interesting that you pull out that idea of communication techniques because a lot of presentation and communication skills are about learning specific techniques. The thing about that is if it’s not actually part (or comes across as part) of you it questions authenticity and integrity because suddenly ‘is this person being real with me?’ Or are they just saying this because that’s what they’ve been trained to say.

Clement:

Absolutely and I’ll give an example. There’s a lot of talk about the importance of non-verbal language and the statistics (that in my view are quite questionable) about the percentage of the message that comes across through non-verbal. And try to build trust or a relationship with anyone or sign a contract without words—that’s pretty hard.

The thing is people try to learn how to interpret other people’s non-verbal language and at the same time they try to decode their own and try to control the way they behave with their hands and face and all of that—it becomes robotic.

Unless you’ve got people with certain deficiencies most people I come across are pretty good at understanding other people’s non-verbal language, intuitively. It’s a great skill that human beings have.

I get a sense of what that means. I might be wrong but at least I get an impression within a fraction of a second of what that might mean. The problem is not whether I can interpret it; the problem is what do I do with the interpretation I’ve got.

If I keep the interpretation for me and start adjusting the strategy of the conversation with the way I behave without having addressed what I just saw that’s when it starts breaking down. Whereas if I start trying to control my own non-verbal communication that’s when it starts breaking down because you start paying attention to it. It’s all about alignment between words and hands.

Darren:

I’ve had so many examples of that between agencies and marketers where the agency is interpreting the marketer’s non-verbal signs without actually checking in. I keep saying to them, ‘it’s o.k. to ask is everything o.k.?’ If someone suddenly changes their position I’m inclined to think they’ve taken a dislike or I’ve somehow lost this conversation. I’ll just stop what I’m saying and ask, ‘is everything o.k.?’

Clement:

Absolutely. Or, ‘I get the impression I just lost you with what I just said’.

Darren:

If you don’t check in you’re not really communicating.

Clement:

It’s a game of chess.

Darren:

The word presenting infers it’s a one-way thing; that I present to you and you just sit there and accept.

Clement:

Absolutely.

Darren:

But that’s not effective, either as a piece of communication or to get someone to buy or do something. If I haven’t got you aligned and agreeing with what I’m saying then nothing’s going to happen because you’ll sit there going ‘he’s wrong, he’s wrong’.

Clement:

Imagine, if we started applying all these techniques that we learn in the business world at home and with our friends they’d start making fun of us pretty quickly and we’d lose a few friends along the way and our kids would mock us. But that’s to show that it’s absurd.

It doesn’t change the way I should relate and behave and engage with someone whether that someone is a prospect, a client, a potential partner, my wife, my kids or my mother-in-law; behaviour-wise there should be very little difference.

The only real difference is what we talk about—the content. That’s the difference.

Darren:

The purpose changes.

Clement:

The purpose changes but generally unless it’s for the sheer pleasure of being with someone there is a purpose. And people forget that. I think a lot of these techniques which apply to management, sales, negotiation, all the different fields of business, they end up creating in people’s minds a split between who I am at work and who I am outside of work.

And naturally when people are free to be who they are, unless they have some issues with their history, background and their education most people are pretty good at creating bonds. Everything they learn in the context of work makes it all very artificial. Then there’s a Tom or a Sophie at work and a Tom or Sophie at home.

And I think a lot of the stress and discomfort and pain that people go through in their careers is linked to that split. They become two.

Darren:

Multi-personality disorder isn’t it? You start having to live two lives. I’ve worked with people who have a certain persona then under pressure in their work or personal life they suddenly change and you think what’s wrong. What’s happened is the effort of maintaining those personas has just become too much as they deal with whatever that is.

Clement:

Darren, you and I met quite a few years back in the context of a project at a bank. I remember to this day you having run a workshop to determine roles and responsibilities for a number of people in a marketing department in that bank. And the project was a very difficult one and created a lot of stress for everyone.

But I admired you for the way that you not only managed the workshop by telling things that no one dared to say but also the way you engaged with the client and the other consultants on the project. It’s that audacity on the one side, caring on the other and just the truthfulness of saying things the way they are and being yourself all the time which I admired.

I wasn’t in this trade at the time but that’s one of the reasons I’ve remembered that moment because I admired that. And I know that’s one of the reasons we still like to see each other. I know there’s no difference in the Darren at work and outside of work and I hope he thinks the same thing of me. I don’t know about you but I have trouble relating with people who have spilt personalities.

Darren:

Yeah, it’s really difficult to know who you’re talking to. It goes to the core of authenticity. You said before most people can detect bullshit. If we think someone is not being straight with us there is something that starts in the pit of your stomach and just starts to eat you away that I’m being lied to. There’s something inauthentic about it.

And the only people who could really pull that off well are called actors and they’re very good actors. The trouble is they spend their whole lives pretending to be other people, other characters and they get paid a lot of money when they’re successful for doing it because it’s not easy.

Anyone who thinks they can be an actor just try and do some acting in front of a video camera and watch it back. It’s so much easier being who you are. And then for me the next secret is accepting that that’s who you are. There’s no other you. You can round the rough bits off, smooth things over or pick up little things to do or be aware of but largely you are you.

Clement:

I can’t remember who said it but try to be yourself; everyone else is taken.

Darren:

I love that.

Clement:

I really like the idea. Part of the value of what we bring is by working on the conversations people need to have in the context of work we get them to accept without being psychoanalytical in any way we get them to come back to very simple things to put words on their desires, needs, emotions, agreements, disagreements, ambitions or sometimes even to dare to ask questions.

In order to achieve that as a side-effect of that work it gets people to question themselves as to why they’ve grown to behave in certain ways and to overcome a fear of displeasing.

I believe, profoundly, that due to the fear of displeasing we end up pleasing no one. And working together in the context of business is about pleasing—not in the sense of being a people-pleaser but in the sense of does that person want to work with me rather than with someone else?

You talked about authenticity and authenticity cannot be taught as a technique. It has to be a very personal decision to start off with about who am I, how do I want to be seen? It’s the same thing when it comes to leadership. Often now we see those notions coming together about authentic leadership.

Leadership is more than the quality of the vision or the ambition I might have for my business; the real question is does that person want to go there with me?

Darren:

And who I am. Being accepted by your partner in your personal relationship but often people take that same level of rejection into business where they think that if someone decides not to do business with you it’s because they didn’t choose me. But that’s their choice. It’s not like it’s a lifelong thing. I’ve had situations where people have said they don’t want to work with you and then 3 years later suddenly you’re working together. It’s not forever. A ‘no’ is not no for all eternity.

Clement:

The reverse is also true. Some of the biggest volume of business that we’ve ever done by far is with one of the only clients with whom we said, ‘we don’t want to work with you’. It’s a true story.

Darren:

Fantastic. Without getting into the psychology but getting people to write down their fears, desires and goals is such a powerful thing to do because people carry this around in their heads and almost never have an opportunity to articulate it. It’s so powerful because it’s there and you can go from it being part of your thinking to something you can then reflect on quite objectively but also at the same time personally can’t you?

Clement:

Absolutely. We apply the same principle not so much as we get people to do reflective type of work on their emotions, feelings about their work, their personality and leadership styles. We get them to work out at a much more micro level how they feel about the conversations they need to have and are about to have and have just had. And how they feel about the ambition they’re pursuing and how they feel about the way they’ve been spoken to in the conversation they’re having.

We take a very micro view on a conversation by conversation basis but it’s the sum of conversations that builds relationships through time. And success or failure, joy or pain. Those analytical processes are very important but we’ve chosen another path which is a very hands-on operational path about developing that micro process in the everyday things we need to do so it becomes a personal discipline rather than a stop and go I do once a year either for myself or with my psychologist when I need to.

It’s something which is very hands-on and concrete so that you see benefits immediately. We call it training because we have to be paid out of budget and that budget is generally labelled the training budget.

Darren:

It’s very practical isn’t it?

Clement:

It’s two in one. It’s coaching and training in the same thing. It’s an experience and through that experience you learn.

Darren:

Presentation skills—they give you the theory, get you to stand up, video you and then they critique the presentation to tell you how you could be better.

Clement:

And there’s a few bits missing in that process for me. When you learn a sport, people don’t start by giving you the theory of the sport. Often they get you to start hitting balls very quickly and it’s through the process of hitting the ball, the coach observing you do it and you observing the coach do it that you learn and actually end up conceptualising a few things. I’m not talking about the rules of tennis but how you actually execute the act of playing tennis.

If that applies to any sporting activity it should apply to any acquisition of a new reflex because conversations are just about reflex. One of the first things we do is to get people, through a process of rediscovery of a number of things, which are the things it took us many years to understand which is what makes conversations both effective and pleasant.

It’s a reverse mechanism of rather than giving them theory we get them to rediscover it through exercises and role-plays. Those exercise and role-plays involve real conversations. We don’t start with the model; we end up with the model. That’s a very important principle. Even though everyone gets the same handout they’ve conceptualised it in a way which is unique to who they are and their experience.

Once they identify those principles we get them to hit as many balls as they need—repeat the exercise as many times as they need in real-life high-stakes business conversations until we witness with them that they’re able to perform differently than they used to.

It’s not just about the critiquing aspect it’s also about observing together the process of progress and coaching.

Darren:

And allowing people to integrate that into actually doing it. There is a creative guy, Nick Law, he says human beings learnt in 3 different ways. The first way they learnt was sitting around the campfire telling stories about the hunt they went on earlier that day. The next way they learnt was to practice; getting a spear and setting a skin up and then practice hunting the woolly mammoth. Then finally you learn by actually doing it and going out and hunting.

He said the 3rd one is the most effective one. Actually doing is the most effective. But storytelling is a way of passing on experience when you can’t actually experience it for yourself.

Clement:

Absolutely. And we don’t have the luxury unfortunately of sitting down in the actual meetings and conversations that people have in the context of work. Although I’m sure technically it would be extremely useful if we could. So we have to extract those conversations and bring them into the training room.

And we use those conversations which are future conversations which we role-play as a training platform. And effectively it does two things within the same process. On the one hand the coaching aspect where we coach them and prepare them to have the conversation so they get immediate implementation and return for investment, which has all the virtues of them wanting to do it again.

At the same time we use that conversation as a training platform to develop a reflex that they could apply in any other conversation that they need to have on the same topic or a different one.

Darren:

To move the conversation forward, you’re a French company. I know people talk about the world becoming a global village because of the internet but there are cultural differences between different countries yet you have got a successful business in multiple countries. How does culture come into this training and technique?

Is it a big issue? From my own personal experience doing business in India, it was quite different for me from the US, which is totally different from the UK and Japan. I can see that what you’re talking about goes to the very essence of what it means to be a human being and to build relationships but is there a big difference? Do you have to consider those things?

Clement:

Culture around the world and the way people are brought up is one of the biggest providers of business for us; it’s a big source of business. I want to rectify something; you said we’re a French business. We originated in France. Our group head office is in France but because of those cultural reasons (which I’ll go to in a minute) our strategy in terms of developing internationally is to have local people serve local markets in local language because the language in which we do it is fundamental.

That’s why I was glad the day I met Steve Shepherd who’s representing us in Australia because it’s important to have people from the local culture who are able to both talk about it and deliver it. I’ll go back to what I said before: how do you want to be spoken to? Whether you ask a Japanese, Chinese, American, French person or an Aussie, they’ll say the same thing. Direct, polite, warm and respectful.

Then when you observe the way they have a conversation, for reasons that are often linked to culture itself, the conversations end up being the opposite of that. Take this caricature as an example. Even the Japanese would admit to this; the Japanese know they’re not direct. But the paradox is when you ask them how they want to be spoken to, they sat direct. And I know because we deliver work in Japanese for Japanese people so I’m not making this up.

The reason why that happens (and I’m using Japan as an example but this is true everywhere around the world) is to a great extent because of the way people are educated. A few years back you had a little Darren and a little Clement who were born just about the same and then you take them 20 years down the track and on the one side you’ve got an Aussie and on the other a French person because of the layers of education from family, schooling, church, army and from business too because businesses are now in charge of training people.

Those layers of education unfortunately too often end up creating a gap between the way we would like to speak to each other and the way we do speak to each other. We’ve all been told as children by our parents, ‘you shouldn’t lie’ yet I’m sure many people have experienced this.

Imagine you were a little kid at home on the weekend and the phone rings and your parent’s neighbours calling in saying ‘we’d love to have you over for a barbeque on Sunday.’ ‘Oh Johnny is sick’ or ‘it’s very sweet of you but we’ve already got something on’ and then you look at your mum or dad and you go ‘but that’s not true’.

Darren:

But they’re called white lies. You learn that when you’re older that there’s a difference between lying and white lies, which are the lies we tell just to smooth through the social awkwardness.

Clement:

Absolutely. White lies but it’s still the word ‘lie’ in there and it’s not the colour that makes it better.

Darren:

Then it becomes degrees doesn’t it? Then that’s interpretive and then you go into a toxic work environment which is very much about blaming people and then suddenly the degree of lying to avoid blame gets greater and greater. Then suddenly you find yourself filling out a form saying you value honesty but then you go and work in an environment where they’re needing to lie almost every day just to survive.

Clement:

Or fight, depending on which extreme they sit on. That’s exactly the paradox; when we are obsessed with preserving social links we end up too often lying or not saying. Or on the contrary, when we’re in self-defence mode and we’re up for a fight, we end up aggravating other people and telling the truth to their face. And it’s not the truth; it’s just disrespect. This is only an analogy, an example.

Darren:

It’s a great one though. How many companies have honesty as a value?

Clement:

Almost all of them.

Darren:

And how many of them, at some point, have either lied to shareholders, their staff, the government just as part of business?

Clement:

Absolutely. The business in itself is nothing. The business is constituted with individuals who make decisions about what the business does. I often have clients who say ‘we need to see what you guys do so we can make sure it aligns with our values’. I generally respond ‘I already know it does because if it didn’t you wouldn’t put that on the wall. I can guarantee it already aligns. We will help you make sure the behaviour your staff adopt is more aligned with the values you’ve already announced you have.

Some very basic examples. Let’s take caricatures (they’re an exaggeration of sorts but they’ve always got some truth in them) say an English and a French person. A French person who disagrees with someone in the context of work could very well go off and say, ‘you’re completely wrong, you’re going to screw this, you just don’t get it’.

An English person wouldn’t say that unless they’re drunk. They wouldn’t say that in the context of work. An angry English person and an angry French person don’t look the same. An English person would have a much more implied way of saying that they disagree. It might be ‘that’s an interesting point of view; let’s ask the others what they think’.

You need to have been brought up close to that culture to figure out what that means. Sometimes I make fun of the English, who I love by the way, by saying that if an English person tells you ‘that’s interesting’, just be very cautious.

Darren:

Or courageous.

Clement:

Yes, but the problem is that aggression of that caricature French person or of the English person, neither of them suit me. Because it’s an ability to neither throw a brick at someone’s face nor fall into the extreme political correctness. It’s an ability to say to someone with the greatest kindness in the world ‘I have a radically different point of view to yours’.

The question is not are they right or am I wrong? The question is do I agree or disagree? The question is not are they lying or telling the truth? The question is do I believe them or not? The question is not are they honest or dishonest? The question is do I trust them? The question is not are they an idiot or not. The question is do I admire them or not?

These are the real things we should be asking ourselves and talking about in the conversations we have. The two extremes in those examples, that’s not the way things need to be. This is not a way of avoiding all conflict. Sometimes conflict is necessary. And sometimes it can even be a choice to enter conflict as a way of overcoming something.

But at least giving people the skills to avoid falling into either of those two extremes is a way of getting them to have the fights they have chosen to have.

Darren:

I think the only time conflict is incorrect; you can have conflict—I’m talking about serious conflict, with raised emotions, as long as it’s still respectful, where the conflict is actually the conflict of ideas and not the belittling of each other, the name calling or the game-playing. Because then communication is completely broken down.

Like children in the playground pointing fingers and throwing sticks and stones at each other but people get those two conflated. They often think you have to avoid conflict because it’s wrong. Conflict is perfectly acceptable as long as it’s about the concept that you’re discussing or disagreeing about and that you do it in a way that is still respecting the other person.

You still respect the other idea. One of the things I’ve always been good at is arguing with people and I’m good at it because I learnt very early on to listen to the other person. Stop thinking about what you’re going to say next and actually listen to what the person is saying because if you want to actually beat someone in an argument, win the point, you need to show the flaws in their thinking more than proving you’re right.

Clement:

Absolutely.

Darren:

You can keep shouting from the rooftops that your point of view is right but it’s actually much more effective to keep asking questions of the other person to the point where suddenly everyone including them realises that there is a flaw. Then it opens it up to if there’s a flaw here, is there something in my perspective that overcomes that flaw.

Ultimately, we should be looking for the best solution.

Clement:

And for that you have to put ego aside to some extent. To go back to the cultural differences aspect, with the work we did at Interactifs 30 years ago looking at what people do in those relationships that produce more of what they want with a good use of time and energy and, at the same time, creating close bonds. We found something which is completely trans-cultural.

Although on the surface a lot of the codes are different, at a much deeper level the desires and expectations are very much the same. I left France when I was 6. I’m the son of ex-pats. I lived in New Zealand, South Korea, Morocco, England, Australia, I’ve been in planes and travelling around the world since I was a kid. I think I had that deep insight in me that there are many more things that make us the same than that make us different. I often have more things in common with a Japanese person living 1,000’s of miles away from me than I do with my French neighbour.

It all depends on whether we can tap into those things or not. And it’s just the journey we need to make on average. And the journey we need to go through with an average American person is different to the journey with a Japanese person. The end game is bring them with their codes, language, personalities, topics as close as possible to direct and respectful.

Too often people think direct or respectful. I’m convinced that one of the best ways of being respectful is being direct. And I like to look at things very differently.

Darren:

Part of the challenge is that people bond over shared experiences so that if you’ve had quite different cultural experiences—going to junior school in America in the mid-west could be very different to going to school in LA, Japan or regional France. The emotion, fear on your first day, excitement, achievement or failure or being ostracised; that’s the human level.

But often socially the conversations exist at the superficial: did you grow up watching that TV programme or whatever. What you’re talking about is having the respect for someone to go beyond the superficial and really get to what is it as a human being that we share and how can we help each other.

Clement:

For sure. To give you an example, when I was 6 I landed in a local Kiwi school. There were no English schools in Wellington 35 years back. I didn’t speak a word of English. My teacher didn’t speak a word of French and nor did the little boys and girls in my school. And the one thing we connected on was football/ soccer. The question is not knowing all differences, the principle is expecting the difference.

Too often when people try to work across borders and cultures, as a way of trying to relate, they try to figure out all the other person’s codes. Quickly that becomes a hindrance, and, pushed to its extreme, even disrespectful, when you try to mimic them. People only see the inconvenience but there’s an advantage working with someone from a different culture: their level of forgiveness is so much higher.

When I came back to France having lived around the world and lived in Australia for 12 years—I’ve got a very French name, I look French, I speak French without the hint of an accent but I can tell you there was stuff I ignored, missed—I was in a discovery process going back to France.

The intolerance levels of my compatriots was extremely high whereas if I make a cultural or communication mistake with a Chinese person the chances are they’ll forgive me. They know that I’m not meant to know. That’s o.k. And when we make mistakes, whether it’s cross-cultural communication or in general to me there are two possibilities because I will make mistakes.

Possibility number one, the relationship is so poor that they will probably use it as a way of degrading it more or the relationship is good enough that we use it as a way of creating a stronger link than we had before. These are the only two possibilities. That’s why I talk more about relationships than I do about communication.

Darren:

And only if you go into that interaction, that relationship with the open mind of learning and moving forward rather than criticising and shutting it down. I was once given the advice; don’t try and learn all the cultural nuances, just be yourself. Because if you try and you screw it up it can be offensive. You’re better off to say this is who I am and be open and honest in the way that you deal with business than it is making token gestures to someone else’s’ culture.

Clement:

I completely agree. Learning the Interactifs discipline is a way for the Japanese to learn how to say ‘no’ without violating their culture. It’s a way of helping the Chinese express what they want without starting a revolution. Again pardon the caricatures but you have to have caricatures to make a point. It’s a way of helping the Dutch be a bit warmer and closer, maybe helping some Americans be less blunt when they say what they have to say.

Or helping some Aussies overcome that wonderful mateship thing which can make it difficult to say things because it’s possibly at the cost of a relationship and relationships are important in Australia. Or on the other side you say it’s a blokey culture and throw bricks in people’s faces because it’s ok to say things to their face. No, that’s just being plain rude.

Darren:

Yeah, it is rude. Look we’ve run out of time. It’s a conversation we have had for hours and I’m sure will have again.

Clement:

Indeed.

Darren:

So, Clement, thank you for making time

Clement:

It was a pleasure. Thank you.

Darren:

One last question. Are there any cultures you really struggle with?

Ideal for marketers, advertisers, media and commercial communications professionals, Managing Marketing is a podcast hosted by Darren Woolley and special guests. Find all the episodes here

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Darren is considered a thought leader on all aspects of marketing management. A Problem Solver, Negotiator, Founder & Global CEO of TrinityP3 - Marketing Management Consultants, founding member of the Marketing FIRST Forum and Author. He is also a Past-Chair of the Australian Marketing Institute, Ex-Medical Scientist and Ex-Creative Director. And in his spare time he sleeps. Darren's Bio Here Email: darren@trinityp3.com

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