insights on communication skills

Insights on Communication Skills and Relationship Building

Flexible Exec: Engage Your Diverse Team with Emotional Intelligence

Posted by Bridget Beirne on April 1, 2014

By John Buxi

We're pleased to bring you this Blog Exchange, with Emotional Intelligence and Diversity thoughts from today's Guest Blogger (and Friend of Ovation) John Buxi. As a Strategic Communication and Diversity Leader, John brings his knowledge (and great sense of humor) to today's leaders as well as tomorrow's emerging professionals. You can check out his blog, or follow him on the Twitter, @JustaSymbol. Thanks, John- looking forward to more!


I walked into a room of six people working on a project. Their work agenda was clear, and it was now at a standstill. So, I asked Ned (Content Lead) and Beth (Editor) what was the matter?


Ned: “Beth’s not being a team player, it’s like she’s not even engaging with me!”

Beth: “Well, Ned is just wasting all our time, he’s always getting off track.”


Both wanted the other kicked off the project. What on earth to do?

And then it occurred to me- neither person was the problem. Their differing work cultures were. Beth, the editor, was methodical and precise. She was Time and Task oriented, with no patience for going off-topic, which is precisely what Ned needed. You see, Ned needed to interact verbally to process information and give his creative input- a Social Learner. 

It took Mindful Awareness of emotions from both of them, with paraphrasing like “Did you mean…?” to learn and respect the other’s ways, ask non-judgmental questions, and to be Actively Listening.

When we think of ‘Culture’, we think about Countries and Religions. There’s more to it though- 'Culture’ is a shared system of values-held in common and expressed by a group of people. So really, we have a lot of Cultures we work with- religious, ethnic, work culture, gender-based, you name it. Plus, all of them need smart leadership- but how?

This is an everyday challenge in America- when team members, partners and clients are diverse, so are their strengths and perspectives. If we can be Mindfully Aware or Emotionally Intelligent managers, we can adapt interaction styles, norms and even work environments. In other words, we can adopt Multicultural Leadership.

engaging-with-emotional-intelligenceWith just the top 100 Transnational Corporations employing 17 million people worldwide, chances are you’re one of them, or at least have come across a project with international clients. Recently, I was talking to a person from overseas, and found myself unconsciously stepping back now and then, a foot at a time. In Awareness, I caught myself- I was moving away because the other person was leaning forward to speak with me (perfectly platonic, mind you).

I was short on Personal Space.

As I’ve commented on before, around the world, we all have a different sense of personal space- be it touch or proximity, noise, even habits. How comfortable are you when you’re speaking with someone on the other side of the room? How about a yard away? At arm’s length? Now, what if they start to talk over you? Or take your ‘favorite’ seat?

‘Space’ can be both Physical and Psychological- and this can really play in to Organizational Culture, which is often pretty homogeneous, and pretty energetic.

We love our teams at work, these days. We throw loud ‘n proud Team Parties, have multicolored rooms, no walls, no cubicles, funky furniture, all fun! Everybody ‘jump in when you want’, ‘be comfortable’, and ‘put yourself out there’, okay?

About a third of Americans call themselves introverts, which Susan Cain defines as those requiring less ‘stimulation’- vocal, light, activity, all forms- to feel themselves. And constantly peering eyes, conversations and *ugh* chewing gum noises across the floor can be fairly disturbing. Even lowering productivity, and skewing promotions.

“This is all so perplexing! How can we work with so many different types of people? Can’t they just learn one way of working and adapt?”

No worries, we can do this! Here’s a handy checklist:


1. Assume your assumptions are wrong

People in in my group have some individual faults, but are all OK generally. The other group? They’re all a bunch of…

Let’s agree that we all have some biases- so offer the benefit of the doubt when possible. When dealing with a Cultural Other, assume they have a valid reason for their thoughts/actions. Let the facts prove otherwise. Then validate their motive first, suggesting different course of actions later, if required.


2. Actively Listen

Before I disagree, let me figure out what they said. 

When leading a meeting, asking the right question, even if just to clarify what was said, can really set the right tone for discussions and include all input. Waiting just that extra second allows the introvert to chime in a group discussion where otherwise extroverts would dominate.


3. Find a balance between group and solitary work

I think alone (sometimes), therefore I am.

Group meetings are vibrant and create priceless synergy. Yet creating optional workspaces with slightly higher cubicle walls (at the minimum) can surprisingly provide comfort to those seeking refuge from over-stimulation.

Perhaps the greatest asset of being a Multicultural Leader is redefining the idea of leadership altogether. No longer just ‘owning the room’, it can mean ‘opening the room to all’.


John Buxi is a Cross-Cultural specialist and Diversity Consultant to Organizations. He loves Culture and talks way too much about it. Sometimes he writes blog articles on or tweets @Justasymbol. Follow him on a journey of Culture, Tea and Batman. Always be Batman. 


creative presentation ideas