During our professional development day at the Organizational Retreat, Praewta Sorasuchart joined us to share her perspective on cross-cultural communications. She is a Thai native who spent much of her childhood in England at boarding school from the age of 7 until she was 15. She appreciated many aspects of English culture and was a bright and hardworking student, but returned to Thailand hoping that she would feel a greater sense of belonging in her country of origin.
She shared personal anecdotes of her experience of when she would smile after being scolded by a teacher in England and end up getting herself into more trouble—“Thais smile at everything.” She admitted that she doesn’t like to make overarching generalizations about any particular culture, but claimed that this one is pretty true. Upon her return to Thailand, she had a hard time adjusting to the nuances within the way Thais communicate. She’d adopted ways of communicating within the English context so her transition wasn’t as seamless as hoped.
With her personal experience helping drive her perspective, Praewta now teaches at Thammasat University and works as a consultant for the Berkeley Executive Coaching Institute. She puts a lot of focus on helping people figure out how to communicate more clearly with others, especially within specific cultures, such as expats or international students trying to find a way to fit in in Thailand. We really appreciated some of the sentiments that Praewta shared. She prompted us to think more deeply, “how do we really connect on a human level?” and claimed “I sometimes think we overcomplicate communications.” In the end, we are all human and communications aren’t perfect or straightforward, even if you speak the same language and grew up in the same cultural context. Praewta talked about how “In trying to be sensitive to other cultures, we may create more distance.”
With those thoughts in mind, she shared four things that everyone desires:
1. To be seen
2. To be heard
3. To be recognized, acknowledged, appreciated
4. To make a contribution
We discussed how each of us felt about those desires and what it looks like when they show up in the workplace.
When we know what people want, it’s also important to think about how we communicated to meet those desires. Building on those notions, we took time to look at the Four Universal Communication Principles from The Four Fold Way written by Dr. Angeles Arrien.
1. Show up and choose to be present
2. Pay attention to what has heart and meaning
3. Tell the truth without blame or judgement
4. Be open to outcome, not attached to outcome
A couple of final pieces of advice that Praewta shared in regards to effective communication include to “set the facts out without judgement” when you are in a situation where there’s a misunderstanding and to remember that it’s possible to “understand someone without agreeing with them.”
Thank you so much, Praewta for sharing your insight, personal experiences, and expertise! We really enjoyed our time with you and have some great tips to add to our toolboxes moving forward.