Stereotypes can get you into trouble, as my colleague Deborah Capras pointed out recently in relation to a marketing campaign by Adidas, one of the official sponsors of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. But sometimes, it is important not to ignore stereotypes but to see the positive aspects of them.
Let me give you an example. Over the past few weeks, I have listened to a number of presentations and taken part in a number of workshops, all of which were in German. And in many respects, these presentations and workshops could be described as stereotypically Germanic.
What is the stereotype of a Germanic presentation? It would typically include all or most of the following:
- Lots of information
- Detailed chronological descriptions: for example, of a company's history
- A serious approach
- Task-orientation rather than people-orientation
If you want to see this stereotype negatively, you could sum it up in one word: boring.
But as Business Spotlight author Bob Dignen emphasizes, a key skill in business is to be able to look for positive intent in your business partners' communication, whether in emails, on the phone, in meetings or in presentations.
The presentations and workshops that I took part in had many of the elements above. We had detailed linear presentations of the histories of companies, lots and lots and lots of information, very little joking and, in one workshop, the presenter didn't even introduce himself or find out the names and jobs of the participants.
Following Bob Dignen's advice, however, we can reinterpret the stereotype positively:
- Lots of information = thoroughness and display of competence
- Detailed company histories = thoroughness and display of past competence
- Serious approach = display of competence and emphasis on getting results
- Task-orientation = emphasis on getting results
Yes, as a Brit, I would have appreciated one or two more moments of lightness or humour. But all the presenters were indeed extremely competent, focused, able to answer any questions that were thrown at them, didn't lose their thread and got their jobs done in the allotted time.
These are key communication skills in business, not just in presentations. And I have sat through enough incompetent, incomplete, over-jokey, unfocused and badly-timed presentations in English to appreciate the virtues of the Germanic stereotype from time to time.
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