Communicating with Cultural Sensitivity in a Zoom World

We are curious about your feedback on this podcast. Allen Koski and Andrew Jernigan interviewed TCM founder Christian Höferle for their New Nomad Podcast. They talked about efficient communication in times of remote work and across cultures. Christian had a chance to share some useful tips on how to navigate the world of virtual meetings and conferences while still being sensitive to other people’s cultures and practices. Resources which our clients find extremely helpful for their global growth.

They also put in their insights on how important body language is and how we, in a time of global pandemic and Zoom meetings, can work around that. This episode tackles how to anticipate what type of behavior and mannerisms we can expect to encounter in the virtual world and how to respond to them.

Let us know what your biggest takeaway from this episode is.
Find links to the full-length podcast below.

You can listen to the full-length version of this episode of The New Nomad Podcast on various platforms: Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, Deezer, or PlayerFM.

Show Transcript
[6:49] Communicating effectively in the digital real
[8:30] Body language and deconstructing people’s mindsets or world views
[10:06] Small talk: to do or not to do
[15:57] The pros and cons of Positive Intent
[19:17] Preventing Intercultural Miscommunication
[20:50] Global success with ICE-Q

Allen: Welcome to The New Nomad podcast. Today we talk culture with The Culture Guy. Christian will talk to us today about a dozen tips, and many other sundry topics that will help us cross-culturally. Welcome to The New Nomad podcast. It’s not just the podcast, it’s a community of people. It’s a community of ideas and a community of spirit – helping you take advantage of the cross border lifestyle. I’d like to introduce my co-host, Andrew Jernigan who lives that lifestyle. Andrew, where are you today?

Andrew: Well, today, as we record, I am in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. So it’s, who knows, by the time you’re listening to this, where the world I’ll be, but it’s a pleasure to be with you all.

Allen: So how is your travel today? It’s kind of interesting. I know you and I have had some conversations about the world opening up COVID passports, etc. Now, I was just fortunate enough to fly to San Diego on two completely full planes. And it appears that people are ready to travel but not quite ready for global yet, how is your trip from the United States down to Brazil?

Andrew: Yeah, in the same sense, on the trip here, we’re probably at about 60 to 70% capacity. So that gave it many people the chance to have a row to themselves, business class. And it was very empty, which is unusual for that flight from from Newark to San Paulo. But the one thing I did enjoy that was different about the flight was the airport lounge experience. Oftentimes, those are very busy places where you know, you can grab a shower and, and get a comfortable, comfortable chair. But this time, it was quite empty. And I’ve experienced that over the last year. But this time, you know, you actually could get in conversations with people, rather than treat it like a library. And, you know, that’s one of those nice benefits with that, that I enjoy is having that lounge access, and so many of you do as well. So I’ll pass it back to you. But yeah, the trip was, was quite different than normal.

Allen: And it really ties into some of the things we want to talk with Christian today. And I just want to mention a couple things about Christians background, and I know you don’t want to necessarily toot your own horn, but your company, the culture of mastery, as a tremendous insights. Really enjoyed your podcast, your YouTube channel that you share to chaps many cultures and your dozen travel tips. I really look forward to getting into that today. You know, kind of off of Andrew’s comments. Tell us a little bit about what you’re seeing in the world, and maybe some ideas on how things might be opening up and different cultures or perhaps handling this zoom world.

Christian: Well, first of all, Allen and Andrew, thanks for having me. It’s a pleasure. Always, always nice to talk to like minded people who see the world through eyes that go beyond the immediately perceivable. For me, I’m in awe, Andrew, that you’re flying, because I had my last trip on an airplane about a year ago – from the Silicon Valley back home. And that was the last work trip that I took to a client’s location. And ever since then all of our work has moved online. Not that it hadn’t been online before, but now it went online with a vengeance and without exception. So I feel as if the vaccination progress in North America is palpable that we will see restrictions being lifted soon and I’m not afraid to hop on an airplane, now that the world seems at least to get a little bit safer. Then again, I have a lot of clients in Central Europe where the vaccination speed is lagging far behind other parts of the world. And that’s not the same story there.

Allen: So yes, really, about this Zoom existence and I thought was really interesting. Could you share it with us?

Andrew: Yeah, here we are on in different places around the world. I had a family trip. I discourage travel at this point until more people are vaccinated but we are on these virtual flights. joining you joining from Atlanta, Allen from Wilmington, Delaware myself in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, and who knows our next virtual flight could be landing in London or Paris. When you when you think about these, these virtual flights that we take every day, encountering cultures that often before would have been phone or in person because we would have gotten on a plane and had a business meeting. Or relocation a lot quicker. I was wondering what your take is on the fact that we’re only seeing people from the neck up. And a lot of these cross cultural encounters with people, we miss all the hand motions, we miss all the the arms crossed, the legs cross, etc. Can I pass that to you and get your insight because you are. You’re quite the master in educating, informing and helping people get a grasp on both their emotional and their cultural IQ. I think you have better terms for than I do there.

Christian: I’m not sure if I would say that I’m a “master.” I’m working towards mastery. And I think it is a never-ending process. I’m not sure if I’ll ever reach that level. Hence the name of the company. We’re mastering it as an ongoing experiment and process. 

And I agree, though the virtual flights take away some of the full body experience that we would have in a real well, virtual is real, but in an experience that we’re in the same room together physically, that obviously has has shifted. Now what hasn’t changed, let me start, with that is that I’m still doing my homework, whether I am going to build his own sheet or whether I’m going to London or to Qingdao I still do my prep work. I still educate myself of what am I supposed to expect? What type of behaviours might I be encountering? Who can help me on the ground with interpreting things that are still mysterious to me, were point out to potential trip wires that I might not even be aware of. So the homework is still the same. I might not step on a plane and fly for a couple hours. But now that I’m in a Zoom, or Microsoft Teams or whatever technology meeting with someone, I better know who’s in front of me. 

I just had this last week with an existing client who speaks the same native languages I do. We’ve worked together on several projects before and he’s been expanding his company’s team into Central Asia. Now I found myself on a zoom call with one of his associates in Bishkek. Kyrgyzstan. Now my exposure to Kyrgyzstan has been very little, let’s say zero up until that point. So I do my homework, right? I do want to know, what type of mannerisms what type of behaviour what type of skill levels in any foreign language will I possibly encounter? And how do I best adjust my behaviour to which to that which I’m presented with. 

And I think that that is the key element of any cross cultural interaction. Allowing, allowing yourself to suspend your default behaviour and observe the other person’s behaviour and see what you what meaning you can glean from that and maybe gently adjusting your own behaviour towards that of your counterpart in hopes of building rapport building commonality and mutual trust. 

And that is I agree with you, Andrew on a rectangular screen. Neck up, or in my case, belly button up here, with a wider camera angle, that is not the same, right. You’re referring to body language as a key element of deconstructing people’s mindsets or worldviews. 

And there are three components to how we make meaning or how we create a message. As humans, we have the words that we use that you hear me say, my vernacular, my vocabulary, you also have my tone of voice, how I’m saying it. So I could be speaking very fast with a high pitched voice. Or I could really slow it down for y’all, right? And my accent gives away some of the information. And yes, then body language is part three of the message making and now that element has been restricted given the virtuality of our interaction. That means just like blind people who can see they still have a communication, you fine tune your other senses. And that is something that I noticed in the last year and change that people’s abilities to engage with each other and build rapport with each other intuitively, without the body language part has been growing because people needed to adjust. We’re humans, we can do that. That’s a lengthy answer, but I hope that hit the spot.

Allen: Do you very suggest that we start a lot of these conversations with small talker and with small talk, which small talk isn’t that small? A lot of times sets the stage for friendship, and understanding. What’s your feeling on what you think might be an excellent way culturally for people to get to know each other a little bit better in this setting?

Christian: Well, small talk may be helpful, it is not always helpful with any type of counterpart. So if you’re dealing with somebody who’s from a culture who views small talk as a waste of oxygen and time, then the small talk isn’t going to get you anywhere, then maybe you can refer to agenda. So what do we have outlined for this call? We have 40 minutes together, what’s on your agenda? What’s on mine? Who goes first? So you can talk process, and thereby acknowledging the other person’s need for the process or for certainty or level of predictability throughout the call? 

Because there are cultures like my native culture, I’m German by birth, right? So small talk for most Germans isn’t a big thing. It’s even worse for people say from Finland or from other Eastern European countries small talk is we don’t need that. And I don’t know you well enough to talk about what happened on the weekend. Why would that matter to you? And in other cultures, upping the small talk would be very helpful, right, let’s say with any type of more communitarian culture, India would come to mind Mexico would come to mind, you would want to engage in that a little deeper. Yeah. Brazil, because Andrew is in Belo Horizonte right now. So in Brazil, small talk will get you quite far, in Finland, probably not.

Allen: So it’s interesting to me, it kind of ties into your dozen tips. I thought it was really interesting that you added assume positive intent. And to me, that was an interesting area, because well, you’re a German background, I play tennis with somebody who is German. And when it when I play poorly, he’ll directly say, you’ve played poorly today, we’re at American will say, you didn’t have your best game today. Or you were a little off. Could you comment a little bit about your dozen tips because as I read those, I thought they were so spot on. But I just it made me laugh, because they were experiences that Andrew and I experience every day that your dozen tips will help people through?

Christian: Well, that I’m happy to hear that because that was the the underlying motivation for writing those out because clients ask or people just in general, in passing, ask, Hey, well, aren’t you the guy working on this? And that and what would you say? Well, I thought, let’s write some of those down. It turned out to be a dozen also good for headline writes better than, I don’t know. 14, but doesn’t sounds better. So yeah, to your German tennis partner, I think he likes you, because he’s giving you unfiltered direct feedback. That means he values you enough to give you that. And he honours you enough to give you his honest truth without sugarcoating it. That is his sign of respecting you. 

So it may come off as a little bit blunt and too direct for some cultures. In the German speaking world, direct feedback is something to create mutual that we can agree on a mutual reality. So we both experienced this right now. It means this to me, and I’m saying it out loud. And maybe if you push back and give me your take on it, I might even dial back my level of criticism I fight if I find your argument sufficient, if not, we’ll just talk about it for five more minutes. And, and wait for the next game. 

But that is a sign of I call it fencing with words in the German language which the underlying desire is to to create a higher level of awareness right. Now to the assuming positive intent part, that is the difficult part for any type of cross cultural interaction. Because we, any one of us, we have our model of the world, we’ve developed our filters of what we think is right or wrong, what we think is good or bad with the taste that we like or dislike the music that we like or dislike, and how people show up in the world, what we like about them or don’t like about them. 

So our sense of normal and if you’re only listening to this, you can see my hands going up making an air quote motion, I put the word normal in the air quotations because normal is an arbitrary concept. It’s nothing but like a dial on your dishwasher. But your normal defines how you look at the world. Every one of us looks at the world through their lenses of what we consider to be normal. And then if we encounter behaviour that doesn’t align with our set of normal, we have a knee jerk reaction we think oh, that’s not right. That’s not that’s not how I would do it. You played poorly. Allen, your backhand leads. I don’t know whatever. I’m not the tennis expert, but it we compare it to a different set of normal and thereby judging the other person’s behaviour and as we judge It’s easy to assume that the other person with their strange unnormal behaviour wants something that I don’t want. So that would be jumping to the conclusion of a negative intent, which is rarely the case. People, whatever they do in life, do it because they want a positive outcome of that action.

Now, if I don’t see that right away, my job is to find out become a detective, what might be the positive intention behind that behaviour that I find so strange? So let’s figure that out. But until our brain goes there, our knee jerk has already happened, typically, right? So it’s a continuous practice to suspend that knee jerk and think for a second, that they did this. What could this possibly mean? And if I can’t figure it out? Who could help me figure this out? Because I’m not really sure I understand that behaviour. It’s not, quote unquote, normal to me. Right. So that’s what I mean with the positive intent.

Andrew: light bulbs are going off on my, in my head as I, as I listened because I we’ve lived in my family has lived in West Africa for a number of years. Oh, and that positive intent. illustration comes across very loudly to me when someone says yes to you, even if it’s a definite No, because they don’t want to hurt your feelings. So they want to tell you what they think you want to hear. They were so yes, we’re going to deliver that tomorrow to you. Or we’re going to be there and in one hour, when really it is possible, even this week, much less than one hour. But it’s positive intent. They’re giving you what you what they believe you want to hear. That’s that’s a wild example of it. But it hit home as you were describing that to me.

Christian: May I ask when was Africa that was?

Andrew: Ghana? 

Christian: Oh, nice. Accra or where, where did you live?

Andrew: We lived about seven hours north of Accra.

Christian: Okay, so what did you do the second time a third time you recognize that people said yes, but didn’t follow through on the rest of the way you expected? And how did you deal with that situation?

Andrew: I hit my fifth life. I think I have nine lives like a cat. 

Christian: Okay. 

Andrew: It was the end of everything for me over and over and over again. Because for me my Yes, it’s got to be a yes. And if I say something, I’ve got to do it. And I’ve got to do it earlier than I said, I would do it. So for me, it was just the worst experience over and over every single day. When you’re drilling, boreholes or wells, and you’re either doing so many things that require Well, for a restaurant that require a timeline, but relationships are more important than a calendar, then I plot, right. Right. And so a lie is not a lie. I didn’t do it, because you don’t want to think that I did it. So you can just say no, I didn’t steal that. When you did steal it. You just don’t want the person to think badly of you. So you say no, I didn’t steal it. Or plus critical.

Christian: I think you said a critical part of a sentence there. A fraction of a sentence. “When I was drilling boreholes,” so it sounded like you had a job to do. That puts you under a lot of pressure. Right. So you had deadlines, you had deliverables. So you felt some sort of outward pressure to perform whatever task was important for you or dealt to you. And that’s, that’s, I think, something that anyone crossing culture needs to be aware of that when we are asked to perform when we go into our zone, what we’re really good at, whether it be doing a podcast or drilling boreholes, we go into a zone we are at ease with our experience and with our expertise. And that’s when a shock hits that system with a yes, that turns out to be a no. Then our our zone is disturbed, right our our zone of genius gets gets shaken out of balance. 

And that’s when this intercultural miscommunication hits us the hardest because we don’t have the brain power and the capacity to take that mental step back and open the focus and see the big pictures out what’s really going on. Because you can hear right in it and it’s aggravating everything out of you, right. And this is this is why no matter how much we teach this, no matter how much we practice this, we’re not robots, we’re human beings, right? And at our, at our core, if we’re under duress, we most likely will always default back to what I call our factory settings, right we can, we can expand our behavioral bandwidth but under stress, we snap right back back into how mommy made us right? And right

Andrew: where I can easily say, I’m busy, I can’t come to your house tonight or to your baby dedication. But culturally that’s up to say, I’m too busy for you. Right? You know, how dare you say you’re too busy. But that’s my factory settings, right is to say, it’s been a long day, I can easily just get away with saying, No, I have other things I’ve got to do.

Allen: So Christian, you you also brought up a great concept. I really loved your ICE Q. Could you explain that, folks, because I found it riveting, and it’s something I think, helped me kind of have a greater understanding of culture can be used with you know, emotional intelligence, etc.

Christian: Well, ICE Q is an acronym that we designed because a it’s cute and people think oh, what the rapper Ice Cube No, no ICE Q, which is a combination of three power skills as we call them human skills. And it’s the combination of IQ, CQ, and EQ. So in contraction, it means IQ IQ is your intelligence quotient, your subject matter expertise, what you know about the stuff you do really well. CQ is cultural intelligence, what is your ability to recognise different cultures to be aware of your own cultural wiring your default setting and your ability to to expand your knowledge about other human behaviours, and more importantly, most importantly, adjust your behaviour in order to be successful in different cultural contexts. So that’s cultural intelligence and EQ is emotional intelligence. So you can explain a lot of things about human behaviour with culture. You can’t explain everything with culture every and as we targeted. I’m glad Andrew didn’t say that he lived in gone and had the experience he said West Africa, which I think is a clear distinction between nationality and the geographical region. 

A lot of people are willing to compartmentalise human behaviours by the colours of the flag or, or the words on a passport nationality is not a good indicator for or predictive for human behaviour. It can be but it’s not the only one. So we also need to look at how an individual how a person shows up in life, what are their value systems? What drives their decision making? And how do I recognise their filters we talked about the the perceptive filters that we develop, recognizing other people’s filters takes emotional intelligence, it takes the toolset that we teach. So we don’t just address one of these factors, we think for your global success, you need the three power skills in unison IQ, CQ, and EQ, which together is ICE Q.

Allen: So really enlightening, and I’ll tell you, I’m gonna I’m gonna remember the ICE Q, Ice Cube EQ. In the future, one of the things that Andrew and I love to ask all of our guests on this podcast, and this is an exploratory type question, you know, for our Nomad family, what is one overlooked person, place or experience, you would suggest that our listeners explore and discover

Christian: ok, an overlooked person, a place, a person,

Allen: or experience that’s overlooked? That you feel that people should after this podcast, maybe explore a little deeper?

Christian: Well, that that question catches me a bit off guard. So I’m gonna answer it from from the heart and not from the head. I think the places and the people there in that are often overlooked are the cultural trends, transition zones, which I had the pleasure of finding a few in my life, I haven’t found them all yet. I mentioned national nationality as a as a bad concept to identify behaviour because borders are often drawn by political powers and not necessarily by by the cultures they live there. So there there are regions in the world where the political boundary does not delineate the people and how they live. And there are these stringent transition zones. I come from Europe, there’s quite a few. So if you look at assess lowland between Germany and France, that’s a bilingual bicultural area. You look at south to road between Austria and northern Italy. That’s a transitional area. You look at Belgium between Flemish and Ilunion. You look at the Basque Country in northern Spain or to Catalonia at the Mediterranean coast. Those are just some examples from Europe. Here in the US, or in North America, I found transitionals zones, not necessarily along borders, but within socio economic pockets. Right? So here’s white America is black Americans, Latin America. So those area where these cultures blend and cross pollinate, those areas, I think are often overlooked. And that’s where magical things happen. And I love those areas. And I will do what I can to explore more of those.

Andrew: Well, Christian, that that really got my mind running because I was thinking about even the one that’s been in the news most recently is in Myanmar and Burma, Burma, you know, as even the names of the countries can shift due to political powers. But where can we and our listeners learn more about you? And where can we find you on social media? I know you’ve got some great events on Clubhouse that you’ve been facilitating lately. And so tell us more? Where can Where can we find you?

Christian: Well, Clubhouse is still a taste I’m acquiring I’m not sure yet, if I like it for a longer time, but we’ll see about that. But I think that the nexus of all things that we do is our website, which would be So it includes the article, but that’s all no hyphens or dots, I’m on Twitter with my last name Hoferle, I’m on Instagram, sporadically. LinkedIn probably is the social network that I use most. So look for my name there. There’s only one one with that name, and shouldn’t be hard to find. And if if everything fails, just shoot an email at that way, you’ll straightly get to me.

Allen: Fantastic. We really appreciate your time, your insight, and please accept our positive intent on some of those questions. I’ll make sure that in the future, we we use that I think positive intent an incredibly important item. And back to my tennis story. When I did play poorly, I didn’t accept it positively. Although a little bit better than the sadness of defeat, I did accept the feedback. A little bit more direct. How

Christian: did your German friend accept the fact that you defeated him once in a while?

Allen: Um, I would say it, it was kind of in good just because he was a better player that I am. So every now and then it would stage it upset. And I guess that made it a rivalry. And I was happy to learn more. I always seem to try to play with positive intent, Christian, I wish maybe a little bit meager on the court. But when you’re playing somebody better, you try everything you can. So 

Christian: yes

Allen: really, really appreciate it. Andrew today, I think we learned a lot. I bought I learned four or five different interesting items today. Would you have any closing thoughts for our audience off of what we discussed today?

Andrew: Yes, you know, I’ve been following Christian for a number of years, and I’ve grown as I’ve read some of his material. And I encourage everyone really, to one think outside your box. Be willing to listen outside your normal framework and read his material, go through one of their courses. You know, take take your team at your company through their their materials because they do some outstanding training, especially on the corporate level, but also individual to be a successful. Whether you’re a business leader, or a family crossing cultures, I encourage you to reach out to the culture mastery. and tune in here because we have some excellent guests coming up. So thank you everyone.

Allen: So we hope that people would subscribe to the new Nomad podcast and leave a review so others can find this podcast. You would also be able to find us at and of course, thank you again for listening. We’ll catch up with you shortly and continue to learn about the world. We appreciate your time today.

To connect with Andrew and Allen please visit their LinkedIn profiles (AndrewAllen), their company website, or follow Insured Nomads on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter.

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