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Is Quiet Strength a soft skill?

I’m not a patient person by nature and I was born in a classically impatient place - New York City where the word ‘forbearance’ is rarely used.


I’ve lived my adult life in Asian societies where patience and forbearance are connected with group harmony as well as having a mature and cultivated personality.


Forbearance in Chinese is translated as ‘ren nai/ 忍耐’ and you’ll often hear the phrase in many life contexts ‘ren nai yi xia/ 忍耐一下’ or ‘please be patient.’ I’ve gained a lot from learning about the historical and cultural meaning of this, and have observed that cultivating this skill is a quiet strength.


Regardless of our cultural background, we all communicate globally to some degree, and also all face very human experiences such as uncertainty, change, gain, and loss.


In Intercultural Communication, cultivating the skill of ‘ren nai yi xia’ can go a long way and make all the difference in developing empathy, thereby bridging gaps for successful professional & personal relationships.


A Quietly Strong Communicator means:

  1. When someone asks you something that in your culture may be impolite or intrusive, but because you’ve picked up their non-verbal cues and you realize that they have good intentions, you smile back and try your best to answer both politely and authentically.

  2. When you’re the only non-native speaker in the room, and it’s hard to keep up, but you still make an effort to share an opinion or ask a question - even if you’re worried you’ll look silly.

  3. When you do have something to say or ask that might be a sensitive subject, you ask a trusted friend or third party first in private to find out more about how to address it.

  4. When you feel like the truth is being glossed over or the facts are being presented in an opaque way: you pause and ask yourself what the intention is. There’s a big difference between a lie and an effort to preserve face or harmony.

  5. When you ask a straightforward question and get a vague answer, you’re graceful and let it go rather than keep pressing on. You may get the answer later on after your partner has had a chance to discuss it with key stakeholders, or you may realize upon reflection that the answer was already given - you just didn’t hear it at first.

  6. When someone responds in a way that brings up an emotion of anger, sadness or fear, you’re able to observe your feeling rather than react to it. Because you’ve developed your Cultural Intelligence, you know that the other person or party didn’t mean to make you feel that way. You stay mindful that you have your own interpretation and so you’re willing to engage with them in a spirit of curiosity to learn more about theirs.

  7. When your friend or coworker comments about their experience in your culture or team but you disagree with what they said, you let your view go and find out more about their experience by focusing on asking open-ended questions and being prepared to see your environment - and even yourself - in a new way.


One of my favorite interculturalists as well as a master of forbearance and quiet strength is Nelson Mandela. In an interview with John Battersby in Johannesburg, Mandela shared: "One of the most difficult things is not to change society – but to change yourself.”


Taipei City, as seen from a recent hike in the mountains of Xindian district


If you focus on this wisdom when:

  • working in a global virtual team

  • doing business with international clients

  • in a cross-cultural relationship

  • making sense of global trends

  • living abroad

..you’ll be communicating with CulturalEQ (Cultural & Emotional Intelligence) and will succeed in your endeavors, no matter how many or little details you started off knowing about your partner’s culture.


Contact me here to set up a Discovery Call on how you can develop your own CulturalEQ communication skills for leadership and team communication in today's VUCA world.


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