7 January 2021 by Marjoleine van Sinderen, 4c Unity
You might have an opinion about what happened in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C, yesterday and right now, but please don’t share it with your American colleagues, partners, suppliers, clients, etc. for the sake of your relationship with them. Why? Some suggestions on what to say and what not to say.
Many of us like an intensive debate
In many European countries (not all!), having a clear opinion and sharing it, is very normal. Many of us like a good discussion and even an intensive debate and show how well informed, well-read, intelligent and well-spoken we are. We love to come up with smart arguments, like to challenge each other, like to be intellectual challenged with the assurance we don’t offend each other. It is seen as a verbal brawl. It strengthens and sharpens the intellect. In some European countries (not all!), many subjects can be discussed without being insulting. Please, one moment. Hold your horses. Cherish your working relationship or look forward to a good relationship with Americans.
Politics is a controversial topic for Americans
Subjects such as politics, religion and sex could be very sensitive in the U.S, so steer clear of those. Americans don’t like to talk about controversial topics and like to avoid any statement that can damage a relationship. They like to avoid clear differences in opinions. Showing that you think independently and critically will be uncomfortable for them. They don’t like you to point out weak points. In discussions you may prefer to compare, contrast and to learn from each other, but Americans will feel this as provoking and will be insulted.
Don’t touch their sense of pride
Many Americans are proud of themselves, their family, their company, their country and their democracy. Many of them truly believe that ‘they are the best’. They are proud and positive. Do not touch their sense of pride. Why would you? To teach them a lesson? O, come on! Don’t go there. Don’t fall into that trap.
What can you do when they discuss the current situation?
Just listen. Listen with respect. Show you are interested with sounds like ‘mm’, ‘aha’, ‘yeah’, ‘I see’, ‘I hear you’ and ‘I am sorry’. You might consider to ask a question, but a non-suggestive question! Don’t let your opinion show through.
What if they share their strong opinion about the current situation?
Then you can give yours, right?
I would like to ask you to reconsider this. They can give their opinion, but when an outsider gives an opinion (even the same opinion), it is much more painful. People can be critical of themselves or their political situation, but in the meantime they don’t like it when you agree with them. It is too painful. Too risky. Don’t go into that any further. Keep it general. (As an example: you wouldn’t like your mother or neighbor to agree with you on your bad taste or bad smell. You can say that and share it in confidence, but you don’t want them to agree on that. This is not about a bad smell, it is about politics and the current state and democracy, but it is just as insulting).
What if they ask your opinion or how Europeans think of what happened? What the media writes and says?
Stay neutral and be cautious. You could consider: “Our hearts go out to you guys. We wish you all the best.” Don’t mention: “I agree with George W. Bush. He says: “This is the way in which an election result in a banana republic is disputed, not the way in our democracy.” Dont mention something like: “Incredible what happened, your democracy is at risk.” or “Well, we expected this.” Instead, you might shift the attention from you to them, by asking a neutral question “How are you doing right now?”
How can you help them?
Don’t push them to share their thoughts, give room to ‘escape’ and continue the meeting. Some of them might need time to process what happened. Just be kind, patient and understanding.
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