Friends told me that when you go to Australia, you need to listen carefully. “Even though you THINK you speak English it is American English. You are sure to miss things”, they said. And they were right.
Sitting at my first session of the National Speakers Association of Australia in Melbourne, I found myself straining to acclimate to the new dialect, the humor and the slang. Learning to order coffee (“long black”) and having “brekky”( breakfast) with my new friends took some concentration. So did remembering to enter the left side of the car and walk down the street without crashing into people. They walk on the left – go figure:).
I made occasional cultural missteps like forgetting about “The Tall Poppy Syndrome” (be reserved about your accomplishments and limit your “me” talk) and one time I garnered some laughs when my new friend John said, I’ll shout the drink.” He was offering to buy me a glass of wine. Who knew?
Thankfully, everyone took my ignorance in good stride. The laughter in that country is infectious. Maybe it is because people take nice long vacations and look at work AS work, and not as the only thing in their lives. I also love that Aussies travel to many different countries (it is often cheaper to travel to Asia then across their own country), know how to have fun and spend time with their families. This seems to give them a worldliness and broad perspective about most any issue that comes up in conversation.
On the work front, I was honored to speak at the NSAA on Engaging Introverts: Rocking Your Entire Audience , and in Perth on The Power of Quiet Leaders at a vibrant organization that grooms community leaders called Leadership Western Australia. The trip was topped off by a transformative Writing For Change workshop sponsored by my publisher Berrett-Koehler and local writing groups. I shared the platform with nature writer and poet Anna Maria Weldon where we discussed our divergent and common experiences as writers.
Quiet influencers have taught me that engaged listening increases your understanding of situations, deepens your empathy, helps you gain credibility and builds engagement (pages 74 -78 in Quiet Influence). A good deal of that connecting started a year before the trip. I had many evening Skype conversations and numerous email exchanges. My friends, Johanna Vondeling and Hannah Samuel were instrumental in laying the groundwork and paving the way for this unforgettable adventure. But it was the live, face-to-face encounters that truly deepened my understanding of Australia and its people. We reveled in our similarities and curiously explored our differences.
Time and work are par for the course in setting up a successful global work experience. All the prep time and even the LONG flight were worth it to allow for memorable evenings spent breaking bread with my new friends, That is what I will remember; listening, learning and opening up my heart to new experiences. I will be eternally grateful for these new-found connections and friendships.