Leadership Crossroads Newsletter

In Focus:
Data vs. Dialog Orientation

Last week, Markus Bauer sent an online meeting invitation to his colleagues in Stuttgart, Germany, and Bordeaux, France. In his email, he explained the purpose of the meeting, showed a detailed agenda, and included a spreadsheet with a data analysis that would serve as a basis for decision making in the meeting. Markus asked everyone to review the data, work through the analysis, and come prepared to present comments and recommen­dations during the meeting. He also stressed the importan­ce of the decision and asked to be notified of any conflicts.

Good meeting preparation? Well, let’s see how the actual online meeting went:

Soon after the meeting started, Markus learned from one of the French attendees that two of her colleagues were unable to attend. He also had to find that three of the five French participants had not even opened the spreadsheet he sent a week before. It was obvious that the decision would have to be postponed.

This meeting apparently did not go as planned. What did Markus do wrong / what would you do differently? When I ask MBA students for their take, I usually get comments such as “Markus should have …

  • sent an Outlook invitation or otherwise asked participants to confirm their attendance.”
  • followed up with a reminder the day before the online meeting.”
  • set up a pre-meeting in order to review the spreadsheet data upfront.”
  • involved the colleagues’ managers.”
  • (etc.)

Sure, all of these measures can be helpful. Remote team collaboration is always a challenge. Increasing the clarity of the communication and involving relevant stakeholders never hurt. However, one more aspect likely plays an important role in our particular example: the invitees’ orientation towards data versus dialogue.

Strongly data-oriented people look for ‘solid’ information that is supported by ‘hard’ data. They place high value on facts and figures, tending to discard others’ opinions unless those can be validated as factual. Preferring communication to be structured and documented, they generally favor sending e-mails and using web logs.

On the other end of the spectrum are individuals with a strong dialog orientation, who primarily leverage personal networks in order to obtain information from those they know and respect. These people prefer to discuss data rather than analyze them. They tend to mistrust charts and figures unless a trusted person communicates and validates those. For similar reasons, they value face-to-face communication and phone conversations more than emails and other written documents.

We all know members of both of these “camps.” As is common when working across countries and cultures, though, national preferences and practices overlap individual ones here. Data-versus-dialog orientations can be pronouncedly different across cultures and strongly influence individual values. Compare the U.S. with Mexico, for example: where a U.S.-American most likely googles a piece of information he or she needs, a Mexican might grab the phone and call his good friend José, whom he trusts to be knowledgeable and competent. After all, who knows whether whatever he would find on Google is trustworthy?

Similar differences in attitudes exist across all Anglosaxon-versus-Latin cultures, to varying degrees. Your native language is English (or, for that matter, German)? Your culture likely encourages you to focus on facts and records. You speak Spanish, French, or Italian? Talking things over may matter a great deal more in your culture, as is also the case in Greece, Turkey, most of the Middle East and Africa, and other places. Some Asian cultures, among them China and Japan, are harder to place here as they exhibit characteristics of both: they encourage a combination of thorough data analysis with extensive discussion, which can be time consuming.

What all of this has to do with Markus’ meeting, you ask? Well, some or all of his French colleagues may have assumed that what he sent with his invitation wasn’t that important. After all: if it was critical, wouldn’t he have called?

Ever made a similar mistake of not considering your target audience?

This article is also available in PDF format  (requires Adobe Reader ).

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Lothar Katz

Lothar Katz is the founder of Leadership Crossroads.  He has helped many clients achieve productive cooperation across cultures and drive business success on a global scale.
A seasoned global executive, he regularly interacted with employees, cus­tomers, out­sourcing partners, and third parties in numerous countries around the world.

Contact : info@leadershipcrossroads.com
Leadership CrossroadsSM, 2014

Global Business Practices:
Ten Tips for Doing Business in Switzerland

  • Showing great respect for the country's culture and its people's intense national pride is prudent if you want to do business here.
  • Don't mistake the cultural diversity within the country for cosmopolitanism. The Swiss are often mistrusting of foreigners.
  • Punctuality is highly valued in most parts of Switzerland. Don't be late for meetings.
  • Never introduce yourself using only your first name. Don't call Swiss people by their first names unless they explicitly invited you to.
  • Swiss companies tend to be very hierarchical. Decisions may require several levels of approval.
  • Decisions are also often made committee-style in Switzerland, so make sure to identify all potential influencers.
  • Be prepared to discuss things in much greater detail than you may be used to. Prepare backup information whereever appropriate.
  • The Swiss use both indirect and, at times, very direct ways to communicate. Pay attention to subtle messages.
  • Being loud and displaying poor table manners can be deadly sins in Switzerland.
  • Eye contact should be frequent as this conveys sincerity.

Our newsletter is a quarterly publication about all aspects of International and Cross-Cultural Business Management.  Past issues can be found in our  newsletter archive.

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