Besides the ubiquitous, “How do you find your time here in Nigeria?” which I answer at least half a dozen times each day, some probing souls are asking me more pointed questions.
Questions like, “How can you relate to us as a white?”
“Don’t you think policies in the West will not work here?”
As someone who has worked and trained –and even lived – in a variety of places like Indonesia, Cambodia, Tunisia and Egypt, I welcome each and every question from each and every person. I am never offended when someone is straightforward and honest. It’s through the questions, that I can learn more about the person and find ways to overcome his or her concerns.
So, for the record, here are some of the questions and my answers I am receiving here in Nigeria.
- How can you relate to us as a white? It’s more than obvious that my skin color is lighter than most everyone I meet here in Lagos. For example, I sat in service yesterday at a parish of Africa’s fastest growing church, The Redeemed Christian Church of Christ. Did I say “sat?!
I meant to say, I “stood, danced, sang and shimmied” for four hours! The meeting was a party. An encouraging celebration of each other and God. I loved all of it. And yes, I was the only pinky-skinned lady in the hall. After the service, a young man interviewed me for his blog – asking how I got started with my career. I offered some relationship and networking strategies – telling him to make sure to keep in close contact with his favorite professors after he graduates. He hadn’t thought of them as possible relationships, only teachers. We connected on that point. He is young. I am not as young. He is male. I am not. Yes, he has dark skin. I do not. Years ago, when I trained an incredible group of Iraqi women running for office, their country was (as is still now) in the midst of chaos and fear. I couldn’t relate on that level, but I could understand their desires to balance family and career. We were able to find common ground. And that’s the trick. Searching for those common hopes, dreams and fears that link us all together as human beings on the planet, regardless of our different cultures, traditions, backgrounds and even skin tones.
2. Don’t you think policies in the West won’t work here in Africa? Let’s break that down. Which policies? The policy of being thoughtful to your customers, employees or citizens? To considering and providing for their well-being? To holding peaceful, free and fair elections if you call yourself a democracy? Injustices happen everywhere, not just in Africa, and the only way to affect change, is to constantly and consistently expose and push against those injustices. Observers sometimes complain there is not enough investigative journalism here. But as I work with journalists and civil rights organizations in places where there is less than free expression due to a variety of real or perceived dire consequences, I am often impressed there is any level of investigative journalism. I try to encourage the increase, not carp about the short-comings.
3. Can you really teach journalists, you seem very motivational? This was probably my most surprising question, as it didn’t come from a Nigerian at all, but rather from an American who seemed more than skeptical; she seemed down right cynical. Whew!
Of course I try to be motivational. Encouraging. Supportive. Inspirational. Call it what you what. To me, it’s part of what you do as a trainer, as a coach. First, you must try to establish a connection or a relationship. I would NEVER come into a newsroom or any training room for that matter, and immediately launch into how to write better, or how to manage better, or how to stay on message better. What’s the incentive to change, aka work harder, from that approach?
Having once been a working journalist myself, I know that most journalists everywhere are not paid well. We likely got into the field because we liked telling stories. Stories that might make a difference. The way I try to connect with journalists is to re-ignite that flame still burning inside them. To inspire them that their writing – if credible and accurate – might make those differences over time.
I have read in diplomacy circles that relationships are, for some reason, labeled with the jargony impersonal word, “architecture.” As in, “how strong is your architecture with journalists??” Whatever the word, the point remains the same. If you don’t first connect with your audience on some level, they are never going to care about what you say. It’s basic 101 in presentation training lessons for anyone, regardless of your audience’s ethnicity or country-origin.
First you connect. Then you can teach, or inform or persuade. It seems obvious and yet it is too seldom done. Perhaps the obstacles seem too high. But if we spend time building the architecture, the relationship bridges, to get over them, I think the outcomes will be worth the effort.
Yours from Lagos,
Copyright 2014 Gina London. All Rights Reserved.