What are the chances that we meet the right person at the right time? Out of 100 virtual roundtables organized by different themes in different groups, Kazuko Kotaki and Chaya Mistry connected at IABC Converge21. Converge was a virtual conference that took place back in April 2021. More than 150 business communicators from 24 countries participated in this open-space two-day event to connect, create, and collaborate across the Asia Pacific, Europe, Middle East and African regions. Kotaki and Mistry hosted sessions on diversity and emotional intelligence that complemented and supported each other. Here, these two hosts share their takeaways.
Cultural Diversity, Sensitivity and Inclusion in Business Communication
Insights from Kazuko Kotaki
Diversity Is Diverse
I am passionate about amplifying the diversity and inclusion (D&I) agenda and harnessing the diversity of IABC members and their inclusive cultures. At IABC Converge21, I discussed the essence of “sensitivity.” Business communicators are making everyday efforts to create an inclusive culture within their organizations where people can be vulnerable. At the same time, people react differently to topics depending on who, when and where they are in their D&I journey.
The definition of diversity itself is highly diverse, as it includes demographics such as age, gender, ethnicity, culture, religion, race, physical, mental, neuro and biological characteristics. Diversity topics vary by priority and sensitivity. For example, in Japan, gender is the most sensitive topic associated with corporate D&I, as the situation of women at work is increasingly worsening, especially after the COVID outbreak. Because men are kept long hours and long working assignments in corporations, they are also suffering from being excluded from their own households and communities.
People’s perceptions and sentiments change over time. For example, in Japan, Valentine’s Day became popular in 1958 when a new marketing campaign encouraged women to confess their love at a time when feudal-family-arranged marriages were still mainstream. Ironically, a half century later, consumer campaigns only featuring women making Valentine’s Day purchases for the sake of men are now criticized for being male-centric. In my session, I emphasized the importance of reverse engineering in business communications by incorporating the essence of change management, happiness studies (including anger management) and sapient leadership into public relations.
I also stressed the importance of unleashing unconscious bias and lack of equality for various diversity groups. Understanding and talking about stigma helps identify unspoken agendas. This ignites cultural innovation to support colleagues, members, participants and all stakeholders.
At this roundtable, seven speakers from three regions, including Chaya from the Netherlands via the U.K., discussed their priorities and views. Australian members shared insights based on the award-winning TV series “You Can’t Ask That.” The Australian Broadcast Corporation (ABC) describes the program as “asking the most outrageous and uncomfortable questions to uncover the truth behind what it's like for marginalized and misunderstood Australians.” The program opens business communicators’ eyes, showing the power of creativity and storytelling.
In this session, vibrant discussions included topics such as:
- “Culture is invisible until you talk about it.”
- “Ask questions in an open space to mutually understand stereotypes and start a conversation.”
- “Align communicators with human resources and train employees to embrace diversities.”
- “Apply micro-adjustments to overcome microaggressions.”
- “Provide coaching on your talents to practice how to express inclusion.”
Emotional Intelligence in Leadership Communication
Insights From Chaya Mistry
In my work, I work on change and culture transformation and train and coach leaders to lead and communicate in a more human manner and from a human viewpoint. When planning my Converge presentation, I considered not only the most popular content for my clients but also the topic I think international communicators need — emotional intelligence in leadership communication.
Many of us have worked with leaders who fear or struggle to show up as a human and compassionate leader, but we have also worked with leaders who radiate a human touch that connects with others and who people want to follow.
After taking part in Kazuko’s session earlier that day, it reminded me of how important the skill of curiosity is in both cultural sensitivity and emotional intelligence.
When you are curious, you are in the space between what you used to know and what you are about to learn. You have the desire to learn something new, and you are willing to give up what you might have previously believed to make space for another person’s beliefs.
If you can hold your own beliefs and ideas lightly, curiosity becomes easier. In addition, we can appreciate and be fully present to the richness of another person.
We Need Curiosity to Listen
Curiosity communicates that you care about other people. I think of curiosity as a core skill to practice “advanced active listening,” because it helps you ask really good questions.
Being and staying curious invites us to have humility and compassion. It is not aggressive curiosity that leads to a stream of questions — that is called interrogation. When we use curious listening, we have the chance to take in more information about our own and others’ emotions.
In my roundtable, I shared a common model of emotional intelligence. When leaders have emotional intelligence, they are a dream to work for. They notice and manage their colleagues’ and their own emotions. More importantly, they create human connections and quality relationships. The last year has certainly tested that skill.
The first step is getting familiar with emotions and being able to identify what we and others feel. Next, we need to manage those emotions and notice triggers and our patterns of responses. This is how we start to practice emotional intelligence. Emotions tell us so much, particularly about our human needs. What does an employee need? A sense of belonging, recognition, safety, fun?
For communicators, understanding the emotions of our audience, is valuable data. Setting up communications to hear the emotions and address the needs of employees helps us to connect with and engage with employees.
Kazuko Kotaki and Chaya Mistry
Kazuko Kotaki is the deputy director-general at the PR Research Institute of Kyodo Public Relations, a top PR agency based in Tokyo. She brings in her valuable expertise in public relations and corporate communications specialized in technology and sustainability, based on more than two decades of marketing, media relations and business communications, both as in-house and at agencies. Suzuki Kotaki supports her clients in sparking their innovations and communicating their contributions to a better world through business. She initiates research centered on diversity, equity and inclusion to remove social injustice. She actively engages in public speaking, interviews and writing contributions and collaborates with world-renowned people. She capitalizes on her Japanese upbringing to support local audiences to overcome the high language barrier and leverages AI to communicate beyond languages. She is the wife of a network engineer and the mother of a son.
Chaya Mistry, Director and founder of Humanly, coaches and supports leaders and managers to evolve and emerge into strong, confident and authentic communicators. Mistry provides expert consulting services to help you change, transform and engage with effective human-centered communication. From 1-1 work with executives to large scale culture transformations, Mistry can give you the coaching, consulting and practical guidance to get results and get connected. Mistry hosts a free monthly call to discuss and explore real human leadership communication.
Her background in psychology, public relations, internal communication and “whole human” approach means she brings a depth and breadth of international experience to clients.
She is a qualified business and personal coach through Barefoot Coaching, with accreditation (ACC) from the International Coaching Federation. Along with 20 years of membership, she is a committee member and researcher for Chartered Institute of Public Relations Internal Communication (CIPR), member of the Institute of Internal Communications and IABC. Mistry is a MirrorMirror alignment practitioner and a qualified mental health first aider.