26 Jan 2015

Interview with Rana Nejem - "Social-Cultural Intelligence and Business Etiquette: a must for a successful executive career"

Continuing with the series of interviews with bright PR professionals from around the world for this blog, “global public relations”, in-cooperation with the World Communication Forum – #WCFDavoswe had the chance to talk with a connoisseur of cultural intelligence and business etiquette. Directly from Jordan, she gave us a masterclass about the art of global business protocol.

The Mosque and The Church - Greetings from beautiful Jordan

I have the pleasure to introduce: Rana Nejem.  Rana started out her career as a broadcast journalist with Jordan Television. After working with CNN during the First Gulf War, she moved to the Royal Hashemite Court where she was responsible for His Majesty the late King Hussein’s International Media Department for 2 years. Rana then moved into the field of communications and public relations leading the public diplomacy and communications work of the British Embassy in Amman for 18 years.

Rana Nejem

Throughout her 25-year career - whether conducting interviews with Heads of State, making arrangements for Royal visits and VIP events, formulating communications strategies or attending diplomatic corporate receptions and formal dinners - business etiquette and protocol and cross-cultural communications were always an essential part of her work. Rana learned first hand from top professionals in the field and put it all into practice throughout her career.

As Communications and Public Diplomacy Manager, Rana provided cross-cultural communications advice to British Ambassadors and diplomats as well as Western consultants working in the Middle East region.

Rana carries a Master's degree in International Communications and Negotiations from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, and is certified as an International etiquette consultant by the International Etiquette and Protocol Academy in London. Rana was also trained by The Protocol School of Washington in International Protocol Management, and is a trained coach in Inter-Cultural Intelligence.

In 2013, she founded her own company, Yarnu - which is the first organisation to specialise in cross-cultural communications and business protocol in the Middle East region. Yarnu is the exclusive partner of the World Communication Forum – #WCFDavos in Jordan. 

Rana Nejem will be speaking on 10-11 March 2015 during the VI World Communication Forum in Davos, Switzerland. For the full agenda, please visit www.forumdavos.com.

1.    You have a deep expertise in diplomacy and cross-cultural communication. What do you consider most important when crafting a communication strategy to reach stakeholders within different cultural backgrounds?

Rana: The key starting point is understanding your audience.  If you are trying to influence anyone, you must first understand what is important to that person, what is the language that he uses and what exactly does it mean to him.  We tend to fall into the trap of thinking that there are words that have a universal meaning – such as trust or love – but trust means completely different things to different cultures and different people.  

In an honour based culture, when I say I trust you it means that I trust you will do the honourable thing.  In the western culture it means that I trust you will do the right thing.  In other cultures where fear and control are motivators – it can mean that I trust you will protect me.   This is where I believe communication can break down – when we use a word and we think we are talking about the same thing, but it means completely different things to people from different worldviews and cultures.  

I have seen this in the time after the so-called Arab Spring movements in our region, the west, the Arab governments and the Arab people were all calling for “reform”, but what each party meant by reform was completely different, yet everyone wanted “reform” and thought that the other party was reneging on its promises for “reform”.

a.    In that scope, could you please define the terms cultural intelligence and social intelligence? 

Rana: Psychologists and sociologists have defined Social Intelligence as the ability to effectively navigate complex social situations and relationships.  Essentially the ability to get along well with others and to get them to cooperate with you – sometimes referred to simplistically as “people skills”.  To be able to do that you must also have an awareness of the social dynamics that govern situations – basically knowing the appropriate behaviour in any given situation. Social Intelligence also involves a certain amount of self-awareness of how our own perceptions and behaviour affects the people we interact with.

Neuroscience has discovered that our brains are designed to be “sociable”.   As Daniel Goleman, author of ‘Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships’, puts it: “we are wired to connect”. Everyone we interact with has the power to shape our brain and, therefore, our bodies and our health!

The quality of your life is equal to the quality of your relationships.  Everything in life is about relationships – relationships with your colleagues, with your boss, with your customers, with your friends, with your family and spouse.  Social intelligence is about building fruitful relationships with people from different backgrounds.

Cultural intelligence also begins with understanding your own cultural values and beliefs and the glasses through which you view the world, determining what is right and what is acceptable.  Cultural intelligence is the ability to anticipate other individuals’ behaviour, correctly interpret that behaviour and then adjust your own behaviour to suit the culturally motivated behaviour of others.

2.    How do you evaluate the valorisation of the variable “culture” in the current communication strategies of organisations acting across national borders? I mean, do international organisations approach communication considering cultural differences and craft messages accordingly? If not, should they? Why?  

Rana: Whenever I travel to a country I love to watch the TV commercials on the local TV channels, they say so much about that culture – what is important to them and how best to communicate with them.  A lot of the commercials in Egypt, for example, use humour, song and dance. While in the Arabian Gulf, it is mostly about images of the family.  

In other cultures it is about the logical argument and the facts and figures while others it is about the price or the romance.  So this shows that there is an understanding of cultural communications, yet not all corporations take that into account and that is when business fails and misunderstandings cause tension and sometimes - even conflict.

3.    Could you talk a bit about your company Yarnu?
a.    When was it found?  Yarnu was founded 2 years ago.  We are based in Jordan but work regionally and internationally.
b.    What does the word “Yarnu” mean?  Yarnu is the Arabic word meaning to aspire to, to look towards with calm and serenity.

c.    What does the Yarnu specialise in?  We help people distinguish themselves by raising their social and cultural intelligence – enabling them to float with confidence and ease from one situation to the other while building fruitful relationships with people from different backgrounds. The majority of our clients are businesses – large and small – as well as government departments and organisations.  All our programmes are bespoke – specially tailored to meet the needs of each of our clients.

Our main programmes are:  The Business Protocol and Etiquette – which looks at the ABCD of your professional image; The Cultural Intelligence – which includes a programme that is specific for non-Arabs who do business across the Arab world and also the Inter-Cultural Intelligence programme.

Rana at one of her workshops

4.    What is business protocol? Is it a requirement for global executives in any level? 

Rana: They say that good manners open doors that the best education cannot.  Recent studies by Harvard, Stanford and the Carnegie Foundation state that in order to advance in your career, 80% depends on your social skills including your ability to put other people at ease, while only 20% depends on your technical skills.  So knowing the appropriate behaviour in any given situation, social skills and good manners are not a luxury.  They are essential for your success. 

The behaviour and attitude of the top executive in any organisation – whether intentionally or not – automatically filters down to the rest of the organisation and becomes, in essence, it’s corporate culture.  Executives need to be aware of that, so that they are communicating the message they actually intend to communicate.   They must be aware that “what you do shouts so loud I cannot hear what you say.”

5.    What is social etiquette? Why is it important?  

Rana: As I said earlier, it is all about your professional image, good manners and people skills and the ability to build relationships. I cannot over-stress how essential is is if you wish to advance in your career and in life, in general. As John D. Rockefeller said: “I will pay more for the ability to deal with people than any other skill under the sun!”.

6.    What would be your advice for students and young PR professionals intending to follow a career within diplomacy and international communications?  

Rana: It is very important to start by understanding your own culture and your own beliefs and values and your own worldview. Then, you will be able to better understand other cultures and the culturally motivated behaviour of others.  It is very important to make the effort to understand the other culture you are working with if you wish to build fruitful and productive relationships and influence people.  

You need to be aware of the messages you are communicating through your appearance, body language, behaviour, tone of voice and choice of words.   Social and cultural intelligence is not about following a list of dos and don’ts; it is about understanding the reason why things are the way they are; it is about focusing on the why rather than the what.  The intelligence comes in when you are able to use that information to weigh and assess different situations to then determine the most appropriate course of action. 

7.    What does the term “Public Relations” mean to you? How would you define it?  

Rana: Public Relations today have changed so much.  Today it covers any interaction between an individual and a company or organisation.  That can happen either face-to-face between two people or through the various communication channels – social media, etc. 

A huge thanks to Rana Rejem for sharing her time and knowledge with us! 
Follow @Yarnu on Twitter!

Keep an eye here for future interviews with C-level PR executives from around the globe.

Join us in Davos on 10-11 March 2015 for the VI World Communication Forum - #WCFDavos - www.forumdavos.com.

Follow me on Twitter @FlaviOliveira BR
~ and keep on smiling :-)

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