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Understanding One Another: The Secret to Collaboration

Harold Affo

Engineering Manager @Google at Google

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Different Cultural Mindsets

As an engineering leader, it is essential to understand and know oneself. For me, knowing myself allows me to focus on my strengths and weaknesses while not having to display a ‘work persona.’ I had a unique journey to my current role, living in various countries such as Morocco, France, and the US. Traveling has allowed me to interact with many diverse cultures and individuals with different backgrounds and mindsets. The exposure to others has been a tremendous advantage to me in the workplace, as I can use my unique lends to empathize with others.

Easier Steps To Understand One Another

Understanding Different Cultures:

I had a few of my colleagues from Asia. At the time, they were somewhat hesitant to challenge technical decisions or the authority of others. Because I understood their background and culture, I made myself more vulnerable to them, giving them the opportunity to express themselves more freely. With simple coaching, many team members can move past their haste in decision making and feel safe to share their ideas.

I am more able to be open to diverse ideas and acceptance of differences because of my perspective. As I have seen the benefits of diversity, it has increased my job performance. When hiring, I look for technical skills and diverse mindsets over everything else.

Recognizing Bias:

I’ve come to understand that cultural difference affects everyone’s unique bias. So do their personal experiences and socialization growing up. By recognizing individualized biases, teams can challenge these and, in turn, work past any negative viewpoints. Coaching is the most remarkable practice that can help teams express their tendencies in a safe environment.

At the end of the day, bias prevents individuals from being impactful on a day-to-day and large scale. Striving to be more self-aware improves empathy and the connection with others in a team.

Growing Empathy:

When trying to expand one’s empathy, the basis is curiosity. Asking more questions helps teams understand one another and impacts the collaborative process. As a leader, opening that line of communication shows that you’re interested and willing to lean into their perspective. Before making any decisions, I recommend leaders lightly question their teams.

Advice to Improve One’s Empathy

  • Understand before seeking to be understood. This lesson goes hand in hand with the advice of asking questions. Combined with these two aspects, push incentive onto the other person to share about themselves, allowing you a greater understanding of their mindset.
  • I look for the truth by acting humbly. I know that my knowledge of things may be incorrect, therefore asking questions can push me to find that truth. When I am on call with a direct report, I look to find the truth, not by acting inquisitively but by acting humbly and with respect.

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Harold Affo

Engineering Manager @Google at Google


Leadership DevelopmentCommunicationOrganizational StrategyDecision MakingCulture DevelopmentMentorship ProgramsFeedback TechniquesDiversity and Inclusion InitiativesOvercoming BiasIndividual Contributor Roles

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