Introducing Ayana, a young professional in her mid-twenties working as an individual contributor for an international corporation in Japan.
Ayana has transformed from shy to a confident project owner presenting in front of regional directors, speaking up when they see unfairness, and self-identifying how to improve, all in a second language and culture.
Our video call started with a quick introduction before we dove into their journey thus far. Upon meeting Ayana, I was immediately attracted to her friendly and courteous demeanor, as well as thoughtful responses to all my questions.
Ayana lives in Japan and doesn’t have opportunities to practice her spoken English outside of work. Her goal was to get better at speaking in English to help her further her career. She had already taken the initiative to schedule regular calls with random English speakers to get themselves more familiar with talking to a variety of people.
My initial assessment came in a few parts.
First off, the goal was too vague. Without a clear, practical goal, it is impossible to create a plan that would give you results that will motivate you to keep going. Practice is okay; practice with a purpose is better.
Secondly, the situation was a little more complex than practicing English. Working in an international company no matter where the offices are means you are learning a different culture. Most companies with HQ in the states have an American work culture that contradicts traditional Asian work cultures. I know this first hand when I experienced the reverse, working in Vietnam after having grown up in Canada.
To create a clear and practical goal for Ayana’s communication skills, we connected it to their career goals.
Ayana was currently an individual vendor-facing contributor with prior work experience on the vendor’s side. They wanted to be able to voice their opinions to guide and shape the roles and teams to be more effective on both sides.
Our new goal was to have Ayana be able to present information to her team and upper management, to disagree and constructively critique plans, and to be seen as an authority in the field.
In addition to practicing and targeting these skills, I also felt it was important to gain an understanding of the differences in culture. This cultural awareness helps us better persuade others by speaking their ‘language’ and gives us the vocabulary to directly address misunderstandings so they can be dealt with immediately.
For a year, we tackled this goal through a variety of methods. Here are a few samples of what our sessions looked like:
In our discussion, I explain and demonstrate the concepts and techniques of assertive communication.
We discuss situations in which this approach might be appropriate and the difficulties we have faced when applying it.
The most important thing is that you are convinced that this is a valuable tool for you. If you're not, we'll try another approach.
In our applications sessions, I present several scenarios to which you could apply the information learned. At first, we will discuss how we could deal with the situation in detail, but eventually, you'll be able to figure it out by yourself.
We roleplay out the situation and I give immediate constructive feedback on where you can improve.
We may go over the same role-play situation more than once, either to apply the feedback so you get a chance to feel the difference or to make it a little more difficult by having your counterpart react differently.
You bring in something that has either happened or will be happening. Much like the hypothetical, we roleplay out and analyze how to deal with it under ideal and less than ideal circumstances.
You may be asking yourself why to spend time on things that have already happened.
It builds confidence and helps you escape the self-shaming cycle.
It gives you experience if a similar situation comes up in the future.
Over the year, we had 25 sessions. Here are some of the career highlights:
Offered and took on a leadership role in a project in their area of expertise
Created and presented a proposal to develop the onboarding of vendors staff
Trained and received positive feedback from both sides
Called out, explained, and found a compromise with the temporary manager on changes that didn’t take work outcomes into consideration
Hosted meeting in front of leadership
All in their second language
Communication was not the only aspect that Ayana developed over a year but it did aid them in increasing the visibility of their talents and hard work.
All of the above accomplishments are admirable but more importantly, is the change in attitude and confidence levels.
Ayana comes into our sessions with an analysis and an action plan ready to go. They report back on conversations or confrontations saying, “It wasn’t perfect but I felt good walking out of that meeting.”
That’s when I know their dedication has paid off and when I know that they will be able to face any challenge ahead.
It’s been a pleasure seeing you grow into a confident leader on your team. Can’t wait to see what you end up making as your goal and how you achieve it.
Good luck and keep in touch!