In my work as an executive life coach, I am constantly reminded that even though we are all part of the human species with many common characteristics, we see the world differently.

We expect this to be so when we travel internationally or interact with people of differing ethnic, cultural, and national backgrounds. Most of us have a heightened awareness of our differences in these situations. We realize we need to pause, think about the norms of the other person, think about what we have learned about their culture, and modify our interaction and behavior accordingly. 

An easy example is how we exchange business cards. In the U.S., when we even use business cards, we toss them on the table. In Japan, a business card is “presented”; held in two hands and a formal exchange.

Yet, when dealing with people who speak our same language, we often forget to pause. We forget that just because we speak the same language, may even come from the same community, we see the world differently. 

The closer our relationship with the other person, the more likely we will forget. We carry on and behave in a manner that comes naturally to us, and when it works, it works. And when it doesn’t, we leave a wake. Sometimes we recognize the wake we are leaving and work to repair it; sometimes, we don’t see it.

When we are in a leadership position and leave a wake, it is rarely brought to our attention directly. Instead, we learn about our impact on the actions and behaviors of others. Often we don’t connect the dots and see that our wake caused the behavior in others we don’t want to see.

So, what to do? Here are the questions I am asking myself:

  • How do I slow down to have this heightened awareness in all conversations?
  • Once I notice the conversation requires special attention, like the business card exchange, what do I already know, and what do I need to learn about the other person that will help me handle my delivery in a way that lands as intended?
  • When have I left a wake, what do I need to do to clean it up?
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