Principle vs Application approach to persuasion across cultures.

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“in someone’s shoes” Also, in some one else’s shoes; in someone’s place or stead . Acting for another person or experiencing something as another person might; in another’s position or situation. For example, If you were in my shoes, would you ask the new secretary for a date? or In your shoes I wouldn’t accept the offer, or Can you go to the theatre in my place? or He was speaking in her stead. The idioms alluding to shoes, with their image of stepping into someone’s shoes, date from about 1700 and are generally used in a conditional clause beginning with if. Stead, dating from the 1300s, and place, from the 1500s, are used more loosely. The Free Dictionary by Farlex.


I recently watched  a new client present to a group of his colleagues. I had been invited to give feedback on his first “performance”. The presentation was simple, but good. He got straight to the point and he stuck to it, but the audience were not impressed – why? I always tell my clients to present simple, clear information, so what was wrong? My client failed to be aware of something very important. The two styles of reasoning or approach to convincing your audience into action. Principles-first approach is were you give all the general principles and then you can apply those principles to a problem in order to convince. Or put another way you read the manual before you use the computer. Alternatively, there is the applications approach were you start using the computer and learn as you go along. My style of teaching is the latter, applications approach too. Clients come to me and I ask questions and talk in English. At first they struggle, but then they understand, their confidence develops and before long they are speaking well. The alternative approach is hours of grammar which generally leads to people with better grammar than me, but no speaking ability! But what am I getting at here? When you communicate across cultures you need to be aware of learning styles. Countries like France, Spain and Italy tend to educate in a very principles based way, were as the UK, US and Canada use the applications approach. What this means is that if you are trying to persuade a team of Americans to carry out specific tasks in the company, then you need to present clear points and stick to them (like my new client did), but if you are trying to persuade your French colleagues, then you need to give more background and principle to show how you arrived at the course of action you are proposing. Actually, the same rules apply when sending e-mails to your Spanish or French colleagues. I recommend your e-mail structure consists of a good introduction of the topic, build up the argument with logic, address the most obvious problems and then explain the conclusion and ask for your colleagues support. On the other hand, an e-mail to your British colleague just e-mail with a few bullet points as a summary and end with a plea for help, i.e. keep it simple.


To conclude. Why was my new client’s presentation not well-received? He failed to understand the holistic approach of Japanese people. Western cultures generally have a specific approach to thinking, Asian cultures are what is termed holistic. This in simple terms means that Japanese people need to know the big picture and how all the parts contribute to the overall process. If you think of the Japanese postal system, for example, it starts with postcode and goes to apartment number, i.e. macro to micro. In the UK, addresses go from house number to postcode. This is a very simple example I’m using here to explain my point, but you need to explain the broader implications of a proposed course of action, the interrelations and the possible impacts on various units before you get complete buy-in in an Asian culture. So, when you are preparing communication across cultures, put yourself in the audience’s shoes and walk around in them to see from their perspective not just your own. Have a good weekend.



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