Reflecting on “Tip of the Iceberg”, and Looking Back at “Leadership in a Global Context”


Today in “Leadership in a Global Context”, we completed our journey through various simulations with “Tip of the Iceberg”, a simulation meant to highlight the pitfalls of global communication—especially with nonnative speakers. The simulation had two groups of four try to collaborate on a series of questions where each team member held different information, but with a twist: two of the team members were nonnative speakers, and as such had various barriers to accurate communication. The nonnative speakers were unable to type faster than about one character a second, and messages from the native speakers would come in garbled and difficult to read. We ran the simulation twice—once before and once after the debrief—and I first saw very poor success. My team did not know the specifics of how nonnative speakers would be impaired, and we did not really have a strategy for approaching the barrier. However, using our knowledge of the simulation and strategies discussed in the debrief, we saw a substantial increase in our success in the second run. In the first run I was assigned a nonnative speaker, and in the second a native one, so my experience in the first gave me a lot of empathy for the two people in my group who were now struggling with the same problems I had previously. In the first simulation, I tried to contribute and communicate in whatever way I could, but really only ended up sharing a couple key facts because of how much I was struggling to communicate. In the second simulation as a native speaker, I had the opportunity to more actively direct and help the nonnative speakers communicate; we focused much more on patient and clear communication while getting confirmation on message clarity and using other forms of communication like the chat emoji features.

Being first assigned a nonnative speaker showed me firsthand how easy it is to get frustrated and drop out of a conversation that has become too hard to follow. The mechanisms that limited typing seemed to be deliberately annoying and following complicated conversations became exponentially more difficult as misunderstood messages responded to other misunderstood messages and I had no idea what was being discussed. Clearly, it is important to emphasize clarity and confirmation, as well as regularly checking in with people who may be struggling with a secondary language. In general, the simulation made clear the pitfalls of communication in global collaboration—it is all too easy for nonnative speakers to become increasingly disengaged, and it is the responsibility of group leaders to make sure communication is clear and consistent. I was luckily able to apply everything I had learned from the first simulation as a nonnative speaker with the second simulation as a native speaker: we focused on clear questions and constantly solicited opinion and checked for understanding. We had a lot of patience and also tried to use easier forms of communication that are less likely to be misunderstood, like emojis in response to proposals. Most importantly, we tried to make the conversation as easy to track with and as well organized as possible, clearly switching between questions when necessary and repeating messages when something seemed to be misunderstood. Beyond this simulation, these strategies are useful not just in global collaborations, but in all groups. Making sure everybody stays engaged and working to accommodate people that may have a harder time following conversation by emphasizing clear and succinct communication is essential.

As this is the last reflection I will be posting for “Leadership in a Global Context”, I think it is also important to look back on the course as a whole. This course has brought to my attention so many important but distinct aspects of leadership that I had never really thought of before, from cognitive biases to global barriers, and I really hope to apply the lessons I’ve learned from both simulation and presentation where I’m leading in the future. I think the two biggest things that stick out to me from the program that I fully intend to engage with and start doing is actively being skeptical about my decision making (especially in the context of cognitive biases) and focusing on clear participatory communication (especially in regards to soliciting opinions, sharing uncommon information, and breaking language barriers). In a connected point, I think I have a bad habit of assuming everybody is on the same page and is clearly communicating, and I would like to work to stop making this assumption. It is really useful to constantly check in with group members to guarantee everyone is following and participating. Consensus isn’t really consensus if it is an illusion brought on by disagreeing parties being disengaged from the conversation. By actively working to fight this, I hope to change my communication style to be more explicit and welcoming. Overall, it’s clear that leadership is wide and multifaceted; this program has only whetted my appetite for further leadership study, and I’m excited to apply all of these lessons on leadership in a global context in the future! Thanks to everyone for a great class.

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