What do you tell your coach at OCS when your scheduled appointment was for 11:00 and you arrive at 11:30? Do you say you’re sorry? Is that enough? Do you say you are really (with an emphasis on the word “really”), and offer an explanation as to why you are late? Do you send an email to your counselor offering a more formal apology and an explanation as to why you are late, or is that too much? What you say (and how you say it) or what you don’t say, matters a GREAT deal. Seems to me our brain and ears are conditioned to expect a certain type of response from people in different situations. If we don’t hear what we think we should hear, we tend to make inferences about people. If you show up for your appointment really late and don’t apologize correctly, people may think you are uninterested, unprofessional, disengaged, or even worse: clueless. In my country, we do apologize when we are late for meetings, but our apologies tend to be very brief compared to US standards in my opinion, and could easily be interpreted as not being genuine in the US. Bottom line: I had to learn how to apologize “US style”. Do you feel comfortable looking at people in the eye when you do that? There’s no other way around it: as international students, in order to do really well in the US, we have to be socially savvy and VERY aware of what people expect from us in terms of responses in various different situations. Nancy Hawkes showed us “how to respond” during her awesome ABC workshop.
Our class. Nancy is the blond lady in the middle of the group. Her workshop was amazing. Just wish I had taken it 19 years ago.
We know a lot about international students. We tend to be smart and hard working. Our GMAT scores are crazy high. We are successful people. Often times we attended top schools in our home countries, but we don’t talk about that. We speak 2 or 3 languages. We come to the US to pursue an education, to challenge ourselves, and to find a job. In many cases what is being taught in classroom is material that is already familiar to many of us. When don’t say much. We tend to listen more. Yes, visa restrictions tend to get in the way of our job search efforts, but but there’s also something else that prevents us from being more successful in the US: and that is the fact that often times we are just not socially savvy.
Being social savvy is key! If you are not, your relationship with your professors, career advisors, friends, etc, may not grow. You will have a tough time adjusting to life in the US, making friends, etc. The good news is this: we learned some amazing techniques through Nancy Hawkes during her ABC workshop that will help us all become more social savvy. I’ll put into practice what I learned and try to have some fun.
When it comes to the business of looking for a job in the US, unfortunately, cultural differences about individualism, self-expression and personal passion often hinder our ability to land jobs or simply create opportunities for ourselves. Who you are – where you come from – if part of your DNA. Be aware of that. Embrace that but be aware of how you normally tend to respond in various different situations.
When I arrived in the US in 1994, people told me that my language skills were pretty good. I had done some traveling prior to coming to the US, so I was OK language wise. However, I quickly learned that my cultural awareness of how to “effectively talk” and interact with Americans was close to “0″. Allow me to illustrate what I’m saying with a sample dialogue between say, myself, and a friend. Pretend the conversation below is taking place in my home country, Brazil.
friend: Hi Marcelo. Are you able to help me move on Saturday?
my answer to my friend in Brazil: No, I’m not able to. I’m busy on Saturday.
Note that I don’t feel you the need to say that I am “sorry” for not being able to help my friend move. I certainly don’t feel I need to apologize. I don’t feel I need to explain to this person why I’m busy. My answer is appropriate and my friend would not think of more or less of myself based on my response. It’s appropriate. How about in the US? How would my response be perceived?
In the US, perhaps, a more appropriate or better answer could be:
“I wish I could, but I’m not able to help this time. Let me know in the future if I can help”. Which response sounds better? I have the feeling that here in the US, the second answer is more appropriate and allows me to build a stronger relationship with my friend, without the risk of hurting his/her feelings. So what did I need to do? I needed to learn how to say “no” in a completely different way in order not be perceived as being rude, uninterested or something like that. This is a big deal. It’s come up for me before during formal performance reviews. I had a manager tell me once: “Sometimes I don’t get you Marcelo”. Being aware of some key cultural differences when communicating with people is key.
What a difference the right answer makes. When looking for a job, when networking, when working with your OCS coach or your professors, are you saying the right things, at the right time, the right away? If you are, believe me, you will do very well here. People are rewarded when they’re socially savvy. They’re are liked. They get promoted. People think you are competent. Good things will happen to you. You’ll probably get a job. So do it! Just do it as Nancy taught us. We have to practice though and get comfortable with all this stuff. Some of this stuff feels uncomfortable at times for us all, I know.
You get the picture. What you say, and how you say what you say, has a huge impact in terms of how people perceive you. If you’re a not a fan of small talk, then get comfortable with it, fast. If you don’t know how to say “no” the American way, then learn it. I had to learn how. Learn social savvy and excel in American business and in life in general. Have fun along the way too. You will likely meet many interesting people, network with more ease, and possibly find yourself a job. Overcome cultural barriers. That’s the toughest part for us, I believe. We gotta do it though, in order to achieve our goals. As time goes on and you get better with these techniques, take it to the next level and communicate with authenticity. Then your impact will be even greater, and you will be memorable, as Dr. K. likes to say.
Below is the feedback from students who attended the ABC workshop. (MS students: I enjoyed meeting you all, and had fun during the workshop. Hope to see you around)
Sean: when trying to make friends, given the right context, I encourage you to share with American students some interesting cultural differences between the US and your home country. You’ll find that some people will find that very interesting. Talk about yourself, why you came here, and the challenges you sometimes face as an international student. Ask for help. People want to know who your are, and learn something interesting about you.
POSTED BY SHUO DONG, MS STUDENT
My name is Sean. I am the guy who sat beside you at the ABC workshop on Friday. First of all, I want to thank you and Nancy for what you did to help us get familiar with the American business culture. Both of you gave us so many useful advices and I really benefited a lot from this workshop. I think I will be more confident in the future when talking to strangers from school or work. I hope we could have more opportunities to attend workshops like this in the future.
Also, I have a little question. As an international student, what did you do to get along with native students when you first came here? I know that I probably need to learn something about the history or geography of the U.S., but is there any shortcut to become more immerse in the U.S. culture and make some native friends?
Thanks again and have a nice weekend.
(Sean) Shuo Dong
POSTED BY IVY, MS STUDENT
I am Ivy, the girl with the blue coat in our group photo. I am writing this to give you my thoughts about Nancy’s workshop on Nov.30th.
My feedback is as follows:
This is the most impressive workshop I have ever been to. With the brilliant and clear instruction from Nancy, we have so many chances to participate in all kinds of activities designed in the workshop. We even got our ties, pearls and drinks to mock a cocktail party. It was a brand new experience for many of us. Though the whole workshop lasted 6 hours from 11:am to 5:00 pm, Nancy made the whole day so fulfilling and inspiring. At the end of the day, all the participants end up being good friends. I admire Nancy’s work, and will make great use of her instructions in the rest of my life. Also thanks Marcelo for his help with the workshop. It was very nice to meet him.
About Nancy’s book:
I remember that you said you have some printed version of Nancy’s book. Would you like to give me one of those? I really want to have a printed version to remind me of the great workshop all the time.
POSTED BY YICONG ZHAO, MS STUDENT
Good evening Marcelo,
I think the presentation given by Nancy is fantastic. Since most of us just arrived at the USA, having a course involving US business culture is really helpful.
Personally, I think the small talk technique speech is most informative. In most cases, we are not prepared to speak to a stranger, lack of small talk just makes things worse, for the people you are trying to talk to might think you are rude. I made some natives seem really angry weeks ago probably because I didn’t pay attention to their small talk and go straight to the topic. Small talk can calm us down as well, so I will definitely try small talk next time I go to professor’s office!
The speeches on accomplishment, apology, gratefulness may not be so fresh to us but still make some great points and are practical as well. Besides, the mock interview is really rewarding, I gradually know what interview is really about.
And thank you for your quick questions and little tips, I think next time I will try not to be so “stiff”.
Thank you and Nancy for giving us such great presentation, and it definitely make us feel easier to blend in with the US business culture.
POSTED BY WANGSHU WU, MS STUDENT
I’m writing to give the feedback on the ABC workshop today. I want to thank you for designing such an exciting workshop, and I really appreciate your hard-work. Also, I want to thank Nancy for her fabulous and interesting lecture.
The training Nancy gave us today involves so many useful information that it benefits me a lot. My favorite part of the workshop today is the activities in which we were asked to apply what we’ve learnt from the lecture and videos under different scenarios. Through these activities, I become more confident and gain several communication skills useful in the business world. What’s more, I become aware of some differences between American culture and Chinese culture which I used to ignore. Specifically, I always want to be friendly to others. However, to native Americans, I always seem conservative and not so friendly. This problem confused me a lot and I didn’t know how to solve it. Thanks to today’s training, I learned how to be friendly in the American way and how to make myself understandable.
So, I really gain a lot from today’s workshop and again I want to thank you and Nancy for your help.
Hope to take part in other activities you hold!
POSTED BY JING LIU, MS STUDENT
Dear Marcelo Barros,
Today’s ABC workshop is great and I really enjoy it. Thank you and Nancy!
I have been in U.S for almost 3 months. At the very beginning, it was quite hard for me to immerse into the life here. I didn’t know what’s the proper way to behavior and always felt awkward. Actually, I felt like I have experienced all the possible embarrassing moments in life and school. And gradually I felt like getting used to some daily life scenarios, such as buying coffee at Rudy’s, or asking for help in the library. However, how to behave professionally in business society is still a puzzle to me. I really appreciate Nancy’s presentation today. She gave us a thorough idea and knowledge of professional behavior from a very high cultural, language and value perspective. Now I do not only know what kind of behavior and manner is appropriate and expected by my coworkers, but also learn the reasons and core values behind it. This would be really helpful because every time I face some situation, I can judge it by myself now what is the proper thing in this culture instead of simply following someone’s behavior which might not be totally right or getting confused by different real-life examples. Also, I like the Activity Part. It got all of us involved and I met quite a lot of nice guys, getting to know them. And the videos were amazing too. And thank you so much for the mock interview. Even though I haven’t got a chance to be interviewed this time, I got a better understanding of what kind of quality we are expected to have for an interview.
You and Nancy are so nice. The workshop helps me to feel more confident and prepared if I encounter problems and new situations in professional or daily life here. I really enjoy it. Thank you!