July 30, 2018
It can be difficult enough to negotiate within your own home culture, but it can become even more trying when cultural differences are factored in. You have probably noticed cultural differences when communicating and collaborating with international labs. Language barriers aside, the way messages are received can vary widely and are often viewed through a cultural lens.
Erin Meyer, Professor at INSEAD, and the author of The Culture Map: Breaking Through Invisible Boundaries of Global Business has been studying this topic for years. You can watch an interesting video on international communication styles at Harvard Business Review entitled “Getting to Yes Across Cultures”.
She also created a spectrum and sorted nationalities based on how confrontational and emotionally expressive they are. For example, the U.S. is considered mildly emotionally expressive and confrontational. In America, it is quite common to say, “I totally disagree.” This could seem like a banal statement; however, in other cultures, this same sentence could provoke anger and a breakdown within the relationship and the negotiation. It might be better to be less blunt and say things like, “I don’t quite understand your point. Can you explain more?”
Some cultures, like Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands, view open disagreement as a positive as long as it is expressed calmly. Whereas in cultures like Japan and Korea, any disagreement could be seen as a failure. So, the next time you are heading into a big meeting or negotiation, take a moment to remember how your own cultural lens might affect your perceptions all the while recognizing how this might be the same or different for your counterpart.
July 16, 2018
In last week’s blog, we discussed difficult conversations at work. Today, we are going to focus on a tool which helps give you a framework for starting that convo and offering feedback. Created by the Center for Creative Leadership, the SBI Feedback Tool offers a simple structure that you can utilize straightaway.
Puts the feedback in context by attaching it to a time, place, or specific circumstance
For example: “During yesterday’s lab meeting, when you asked me for an update on my project…”
Describe what you observed and clearly state the observable action
For example: “During yesterday’s lab meeting, when you asked me for an update on my project, you interrupted and contradicted me three times…”
Outlines the feeling and thoughts which happened as a result
For example: “During yesterday’s lab meeting, when you asked me for an update on my project, you interrupted and contradicted me three times. I felt I wasn’t given a chance to properly give an overview of my work and I was embarrassed in front of my lab-mates.”
Once you have given your feedback, be sure to allow the person time to comprehend what you have said. It is important to give the individual a chance to respond and you should check in with them by asking “How do you feel about this feedback? Is there anything you don’t agree with or that I missed?” Be sure to then offer specific suggestions that would help avoid conflict in future scenarios. For example: “Can we meet one-on-one to discuss your concerns with my work? Then, can we find time next week for me to present all of my data to the rest of the lab?” It is not enough to go into a conversation to just complain about what happened. Try to move the conversation into a more action-oriented and solution-focused approach.
The final step in this feedback scaffold is to summarize and express support. An example of how this might look with this particular scenario is: “I appreciate your willingness to review my project on Monday and it sounds like we are going to try again at next Thursday’s lab meeting.”
Conflict can be especially taxing when it is with your boss. Try your best to understand their preferred method in dealing with these issues and approach it in a way that will enhance their openness to hearing your feedback. It can help if you frame the problem in a work productivity way. For example: “I have found that I work best when X and I feel that putting Y system into place will help with my work flow. Would this work with you?”
July 9, 2018
Are you dreading a difficult work conversation? Perhaps you are already anticipating it will result in conflict. At work, conflict typically occurs when there are different perceptions regarding: 1. Tasks/Goals 2. Process – Methods, Quality, Timing, Resources 3. Status/Roles and 4. Relationship – Personalities and Values.
In a survey of scientists, more than two-thirds report having between 1-5 “uncomfortable interactions” with people at work each week. More than 75% report spending about 10-25% of their time on “people problems”. Take a moment and reflect on how you typically respond to conflict? Some people feed off conflict and it energizes them; while others feel extremely drained by conflict and have a strongly avoidant reaction. Conflict is very personal and we all tend to respond in different ways, which can reflect both a mix of our cultural/familial upbringing, our own personality preferences, and our feelings about the issue at hand. Both sides often have strong emotions which leak into the whole situation. Here are some responses you might encounter in yourself or others when giving difficult feedback or having a strained conversation.
- Avoidance – Not responding and withdrawing either immediately or in days to follow
- Excess Emotion – Tears, anger, sarcasm
- Denial – “No, I didn’t…”
- Generalization – “Everyone else does the same thing…”
- Over personalization – Feeling unnecessarily called out “Why don’t you like/support/value me?”
- Rigidity and Focus on Rules – “You said do X and I did X.”
- Attacking the Source – Yelling, threatening “Who are you to tell me that?”
- Explaining without owning – Citing personal reasons, stress, deadlines, etc.
It can be easy to identify these responses in others, but not necessarily see it in yourself. Remember to pay attention to what your inner voice is saying; and, if needed, reframe it accordingly. How can you do this though when emotions are running high and your inner tape is on a constant negative loop?
- Breathe & Slow Down The calmer and more centered you are, the more likely you will be to handle difficult conversations and/or any negative feedback you could receive. Take regular intervals or breaks on days that are especially stressful, whether that is a walk or an extra coffee break. Try to lower your overall stress level before the conversation begins. Likewise, during a conversation, try to slow the pace. Being mindful of your cadence and pausing every now and then can help defuse the tension.
- Be compassionate Try to adopt the other’s point of view for a moment. What frustrations might they be feeling? If you feel your boss is being too hard on you, it might be because they are getting pressured from their boss. Recognize there might be professional or personal pressure points on the other person of which you aren’t fully aware. It can be difficult when negative emotions are running high but try to assume the best instead of the worst.
- Change Mindset
Once you label a conversation as potentially difficult, you are more likely to feel much more nervous about it beforehand. Likewise, this is true if you label a person as trying. Do your best to neutralize the interaction ahead of time and you will likely have a much more positive outcome.
It can be tempting to avoid the face-to-face confrontation and try to settle conflict by email; however, it is extremely likely that an email communication will only exacerbate the situation. It is hard to read tone and other cues for meaning and usually the content is misinterpreted in a negative way. So, do your best to prepare yourself and go and have the conversation you have been putting off!
July 3, 2018
If you are new to the NIH, then welcome!
No matter whether you are a summer intern, a postbac, or even a postdoc, starting a new position can feel stressful. You are most likely excited about this new opportunity and eager to make a good impression. Learning new names, discovering the location of supplies, and generally feeling comfortable in a new role can take quite a bit of time. Here are some tips to help make your transition a success:
1. Have a positive attitude.
Being a generally pleasant person can go a long way in winning favor. This can be demonstrated in small ways, like greeting your lab-mates and making small talk with them. A larger way this can be highlighted is by being positive about the tasks you are being assigned. A little bit of grunt work to help get up to speed should be expected. Too many times, we hear trainees complain that a lab isn’t a good fit for them because they haven’t been given complete ownership of a project yet, or they aren’t intellectually stimulated enough. Remember, it takes time. You can help encourage more trust in your abilities by asking questions and…
2. Make yourself visible and available.
You have probably been told at some point that when you are new to a lab/office, you need to arrive early and stay late. If your schedule (and level of excitement) allows, then this can showcase a genuine desire to become a contributing member of the team. However, you can also accomplish this by exploring and observing during the work day. Maybe you notice the postdoc in your lab seems frazzled everyday around 4pm as they try to wrap up their project for the day. Volunteer to pitch in and ask how you could be of help. Observing processes will allow you to ask better questions in meetings with your PI and will showcase that you are plugged into your new setting, which leads us to our last tip…
3. Stay off your phone.
Surely, you will be able to respond to a text here and there but don’t make it a habit to be index finger deep in scrolling. If you are bored and have too much downtime, then ask for more work. As a trainee, you are here to learn and build up new skillsets. Don’t squander it away by getting too caught up in your personal life during working hours. If you are not actively training for a project, ask if it is allowable for you to shadow others in your working space. This will help you become exposed to a wider array of positions and will hopefully help you identify what might be a good professional fit for you.
Remember, good impressions can lead to professional referrals and excellent letters of recommendation; both of which are important factors, especially early in a career.