I traveled for 10+ years, visited at least 20 countries on 4 continents and yet, when I first landed in Shanghai, China – it seemed as if I landed in a different universe. A massive, magnificent but a different universe. The first thought that came to my mind was that I was in the middle of Asimov’s Foundation book series (in short: science fiction space travel across different cultures). It seemed like I landed in a totally new planet. Unbelievable!
As I reflect back at the lessons learnt in life one of the most invaluable experiences I collected was working as a trainer travelling around the globe, with China being my biggest stretch. And here is why.
Lesson learnt #1:
Flexing my training delivery style.
The biggest lesson that I was to learn was about me as a trainer, not the audience. My training style is highly energetic – from the body language and gestures to the tone of my voice and its pitch. I may sometimes be perceived as vigorous, over enthusiastic and confident. The very first minute in a Shanghai office I realized that I need to flex/adjust, and fast!.
But how can I fit in here with my usual communication and training style?
For a start:
- observe, talk more steadily, stand more steadily, gesture less – blend in;
- remember never to single anybody out to answer a question, especially if this is your first time delivery with the group; rely more on pair/group work;
- give time to take notes – all that you say is important and is to be remembered. Or, if you are cautious of time, remember to note down the key points on the whiteboard or flipchart for the participants to take notes;
- show a bit of the real you – hobbies, bucket list, funny anecdotes – a picture of your hometown at the start of your presentation can do the trick 🙂
- smile! (naturally, of course);
What else worked for me?
- relax – think of energizers and icebreakers that will bring a bit of fun into the training room, start gentle but with time the more challenging the better 🙂
- share anecdotes and examples how others do it – as much as I was eager to learn about the Chinese culture, turns out my participants were looking forward even more to hear stories of others, their best practices, case studies etc.
- recommend – go beyond your course, any books or articles that you think may be useful – share these so that so that there is a follow through after you have left;
And one final tip – respect. You will be treated with utmost respect from the start, that’s a given. Make sure yourself to stay open minded and give the respect back.
Lesson learnt #2
Breaking the ice is not a 15 minutes activity
It takes time to build credibility and trust – and in China it took me longer than in any other country. Main reason being me again and my communication style – as I was used to quick small talk. In China having a welcoming icebreaker for the ‘get to know you’ activity is a must as in any other location. But being yourself throughout the trip, taking the time to share your own stories and experiences is definitely the right way to go if you want to build that real trust and bond. Go out for lunch together, that is with everybody, not just the management, grab a coffee for small talk. If you are there to train, you are a professional to be respected – that’s a given. Show more of who you really are as a person – that is what breaks the ice.
Also look around you for cues – the Shanghai office had this feng-shui atmosphere all around – calm, quiet, welcoming. You could tell there were plenty of stories to ask about only by looking at the desks which were packed with pretty much everything, from funny desk pillows (!) to strangely looking tea pots. These are perfect topics for small talk that will gradually melt the ice (if there is any left).
Lesson learnt #3
Becoming a member of the family. Or not.
Something occurred to me after I have left Shanghai – without realizing it, I became a member of the team family. There is something unique about the teams I worked with in Shanghai – I had this feeling that it does not matter whether you are a new joiner who has just been there for a week or whether you have been there for 10 years, you will be treated like a family member. I was delivering the trainings in English. There were participants who would feel too intimidated by their level of English (unnecessarily!) to be able to express their welcoming thoughts in that language but they would show me that I am a part of the family by bringing home cooked delicacies for me to try. Some would get me a postcard or souvenir from holidays. They created a WeChat group ‘chinafamily’ just so that we can all stay in touch 🙂
I also had a chance to visit another office, in Wuxi (around 2.5h drive from Shanghai). The experience, though, was somewhat different from that in Shanghai. At that time I was not the most welcomed visitor in Wuxi for many reasons. One of them was the fact that the company was undergoing some changes and the times were uncertain. I was coming from the outside and I did feel like an outsider. On the inside I found the team in Wuxi to be very similar to the team in Shanghai – it was like a family too. I think the difference was it was more closed to the external world.
Overall when I look back at my ‘lessons from China’ I get very sentimental. It was a fast track learning for me as a trainer. First and foremost, though, it was building an extended family too that I miss a lot.