Bridging cultural gaps requires a lot of awareness

Interview, Business Spotlight, February 2006

KARIN GENTON-L’EPÉE is a business coach trained and certified in Neuro Associative Conditioning (NAC) techniques in the US. Focusing on performance management and cross-cultural communication, she coaches individuals and conducts training programs on cross-cultural understanding, effective communication, career assessment and team- building. She is a founding member of the Prague Speakers Toastmasters Club and coop- erates with EXPERTIS PRAHA, spol. s r. o., a consulting and training company.

What exactly does your work encompass?

As a business coach, I specialize in helping individuals and organizations sharpen their communication and management skills and heighten their cultural awareness. My methods combine NLP techniques as well as practical knowledge of how companies conduct business in the United States, France and the Czech Republic.

My coaching system involves three different areas. Individual coaching. During the one-on-one coaching sessions I usually sit with a manager or an executive to identify their goals, then we outline a potential strategy and, last but not least, we work on implementing the strategy. The main purpose is to help people achieve their goals by using their own resources. My coaching approach usually includes a personal profiler (or personal assessment), which helps the individual identify his value system, then we look at how his values connect with his communication, his own culture as well as other cultures. After the personal profiler, we move to the business profiler, which is more connected to the management and leadership styles of the person. Corporate coaching where I support people working in a team. Networking business events to give individuals the opportunity to meet interesting people as well as a chance to learn and grow. One of our biggest needs today is to connect with people. People don’t know how to do it and don’t understand why their approaches don’t work.

Do you think that cross-cultural awareness is still underestimated in the Czech business environment?

I do believe and feel that there is a lot of room for improvement in that area. Self-awareness is a key quality that is underestimated. If you want to understand and function well in a multicultural environment, you must first identify your own values and communication style. Then you must want to understand and accept other’s styles, which are often different from your own. It helps to be respectful and a bit humble. You don’t always have to agree with or adopt the views or behaviours of others, but respecting the individuals as well as their differences will give you an opportunity to choose how to behave effectively and get the results you want.

The challenge for a trainer or a coach who wants to become involved in cross-cultural awareness is to be able to assess the multicultural audience he is addressing and respond accordingly.

What cross-cultural challenges can foreigners face when working with Czechs?

In general, accepting and respecting are the first dos of all cross-cultural relations. At first glance, Czechs can seem like a mass of contradictions. They are rather quiet and reserved, or even cold, at first, but they make particularly warm and caring friends once the ice has been broken. Czechs are quite well mannered, and they respect people that behave in a nice and friendly manner. However, what is defined as well mannered in the Czech Republic can often be different from that in other Europeans countries. Czechs prefer not to stand out in a crown, even in meetings at work. During meetings, you might be disappointed when asking managers for feedback. They rarely give you feedback publicly, preferring one-on-one conversations. Similarly, most Czechs do not enjoy confrontation and will often not show their true feelings when faced with an uncomfortable situation. Czechs are eager to learn and very creative. To stay focused and motivated, however, they have to feel that their work is appreciated, meaningful, and provides them with an opportunity for development. Czechs value comfort and satisfaction; a pleasant environment and a patient and friendly attitude will make communication go more smoothly.