Reading – Cultural differences
Understanding different cultures is important when trying to build positive and productive professional relationships on the phone. Many communication experts use the Peaches and Coconuts example. The peach is soft on the outside but has a hard seed, and the coconut has a hard exterior but soft flesh on the inside.
In peach cultures like the USA, Brazil or Japan, people tend to be friendly with new people they meet. They smile often at strangers, use first-names very quickly, share information about themselves, and ask personal questions to people they hardly know. You heard this in the conversation between the two Americans, Sally and Harry. But after a little friendly interaction with a peach, you may suddenly get to the hard shell of the pit, where the peach protects it’s real self and the relationship suddenly stops.
In coconut cultures such Russia, France, Germany or China, people are at first more closed off from those they don’t know. They rarely smile at strangers or ask personal questions, and are formal to those they don’t know well. But over time, as coconuts get to know you, they become warmer and friendlier. And while relationships are built up slowly, you’ll probably have that relationship for the rest of your career.
In general, we can say Peaches and Coconuts show the following behaviours.
Positive peach: informal, open, friendly, flexible, enthusiastic, humorous
Negative peach: superficial, not to be taken seriously, not to be trusted, unprepared
Positive coconut: reliable, clear, trustworthy, orderly, honest, punctual
Negative coconut: unfriendly, boring, aggressive, overly reserved, lacks humour
Here are some ways you can prepare for your conversation with the different cultures.
Coconuts communicating with peaches
Start with some small talk
Give positive personal feedback
Tell them how you feel about the issue and who is affected
Let them talk
Invest time in the relationship, even if you are rushed
Stay in regular contact
Think about calling rather than emailing
Be prepared to share personal experiences and stories
Peaches with Coconuts
Cut down on the small talk
Consider emailing rather than phoning
Be careful not to “waste people’s time”
Stick to the facts
Stick to the business issues
Present ideas in a logical sequence
Offer evidence to support opinions
State your case dispassionately
Stop talking when you have presented your case
Don’t take criticism personally
Everything is relative of course. The British for example, are peaches to the French but coconuts to Americans! You also have to take into account the background of the person. She might be French but grew up in the States or he might be an American who grew up in Germany. If you are not sure, let the other person take the lead, if they are being friendly, be friendly too. If you feel they don’t want to make too much small talk, go straight to your business topic.
In the next session, we will look at language we can use with the different cultures.