One powerful, easy way to build rapport with your US colleagues

The challenge:

If you’re like a lot of international professionals in the US, you might have a relatively easy time communicating with your co-workers about technical or workplace topics. And it’s not surprising that this is the case. You’ve spent most of your career immersed in these concepts in one way or another. Your academic background, your time in school, whatever English courses you may have taken along the way were all in service you your getting a job in the US and then keeping it. The idea that you would need to express yourself well in your area of expertise is simply so basic that no one questions it. It’s obvious. However, when you finally do get a job here in the US, you quickly discover that this domain of communication (the technical, the strategic, etc), while important, is not the only game in town. And in some ways it’s not even the most important.

You have to do the “casual chat.”

Once you’ve landed the role, you suddenly are immersed in a more complex and possibly overwhelming communication scenario where you have to interact casually with others. You have to engage in the dreaded “small talk,” a bizarre from of conveying meaningless or obvious anecdotes or factoids in a superficial and even repetitive manner.

You have to talk at lunch, chat before meetings, hang out at work events, exchange silly banter in the elevator on the way up. It’s seemingly endless and once you become aware of the fact, you realize that your English lessons and your academic studies never prepared you for any of this. There weren’t any classes along the way to instill any appropriate topics or tips that would help you navigate through this strange and frustrating landscape.

Are you losing out on promotions?

On top of this, you begin to get the sense that without this facility, your work relationships might not be as fruitful or advantageous to your career as you would like. It’s an inescapable reality of work culture in the US and the truth of the matter is that if you don’t know how to build rapport with your colleagues or supervisors, you might be missing out on promotions and opportunities regardless of how hard you work. So in this article, I want to give you a quick and easy solution to this problem.

Express your emotions more directly. That’s it. That’s the secret!

One feature of US culture is the direct expression of certain kinds of emotions – we’re talking here about positive emotions for the most part though there is also room for the negative variety. I’ll get to that in a minute. For a lot of people from other parts of the world, it’s simply not normal to say exactly how you feel when you feel it. It sounds fake or exaggerated (and in the US sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t.) “Wow that’s amazing!” “That’s SO cool.” “I’m super excited about this new initiative.” And so on.

I can’t tell you how many clients have implied to me that this overt demonstration of feeling seems, well, unprofessional. You’d never do this back in their home country, and if you did, people might wonder what was wrong with you. And I can totally understand this. I’m an introvert myself and have had to adjust to this weird form of communication even though I’m an American.

How to do it:

But here’s what you can do. Simply state what you’re feeling or what you think in a direct, declarative sentence. You don’t have to yell or jump up and down, or raise your voice. Simply say, “that is great.” “That sounds exciting.” Or “I’m looking forward to the meeting for sure.” Do this with colleagues. Definitely do it in job interviews – it’s a little known fact that highly qualified candidates often do not get called back merely because they forgot to show adequate enthusiasm for the role. If you’re with the interviewer and you haven’t said something like “and this is why I’m very excited about this opportunity.” Or “…and that’s why I can’t wait to replicate this success with your team,” you might have given the impression that you don’t care.

Because here’s the kicker. In other cultures, emotion is implied. It’s conveyed indirectly. It’s intuited or delivered with nuance and not necessarily with language. But the US is a low context society, and that means we need and like to have things spelled out for us in the most obvious way possible. So next time you’re hanging out with your co-workers, and one of them mentions a walk in the park they took over the weekend, say “wow that sounds nice!” Even if you don’t see why it was so special. You’ve taken your first step towards building rapport and then the sky’s the limit as we like to say here.

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