Bow, Sniff, Shake: Your Foolproof Guide to Greetings Abroad

My most recent article (“Use With Caution: Hand Gestures Mean Very Different Things Outside the U.S.“) was the top-read article last week on Avaya Connected. There’s only one possible reason, right?


Yes, fear. We’re all scared of making a cultural faux pas, of unintentionally offending a business partner, of burning bridges and, you guessed it, embarrassing ourselves.

Navigating international business cultures can be difficult–almost as difficult as walking in heels for an entire day (stay with me here).

Speaking of heels, flashback to one of my first days on the job at Avaya. After a wonderful, albeit tiring, day of work, I kicked my stilettos off and put my feet up on a nearby chair, preparing to switch into sandals before walking home. I looked over at my colleague nearby and saw… his face aghast, jaw scraping the ground.

My face turned hot, cheeks cherry-red. My feet, I thought, they must smell. As I was debating whether I should go fetch some air freshener, my colleague informed me that showing the bottom of your feet is offensive in Indian culture.

Just as easily as you can alienate someone with a gesture, an improper greeting is the worst way to make a first impression.

Not scared yet? There’s someplace where you should sniff, instead of shake, and another where you should applaud before saying hello. Check out this international greeting guide, for when a handshake just won’t do!

International Greeting Guide

If you’re still looking to improve your international etiquette, check out these five fun facts:

  1. In Japan, a thumb held up alone means five.
  2. The A-OK sign (thumb and forefinger connected) is obscene in Brazil or Turkey.
  3. The deeper you bow in Japan, the more reverent the gesture.
  4. In Germany and Austria, a forefinger held up means two, not one.
  5. In Asian culture, when you cross your chopsticks over your bowl, it usually indicates you’re done feasting.

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Why Compassionate Leadership is the Best Business Strategy

I remember reading an interview with CEO of LinkedIn Jeff Weiner. He was talking about his evolution as a leader. His “aha” moment had come early in his career. Weiner’s manager had been frustrated with the performance of one of his employees. To express his annoyance, this manager would make passive-aggressive jokes at the team member’s expense, demoralizing him repeatedly in front of his colleagues. Weiner addressed the issue with the manager, which was bold and courageous given he wasn’t in a position of power then. The story took me back to my beginnings in Corporate America.

I’m often asked which leader in my career has had the biggest impact on me. The fact is, I’ve learned from each and every one. Some were stronger than others, but the lessons have always been many.

I had the great fortune of starting my career at IBM, and they had an incredibly progressive philosophy (still do). They intentionally built a culture based on shared beliefs about IBM’s place in the world and how to act to achieve it. One of their core values was “respect for the individual, for their rights and dignity.” These weren’t just words on a wall; every employee from the bottom up walked the talk or didn’t make it at IBM.

This principle would guide me throughout my career.


Over the years, I’ve learned when people adopt “respect for the individual,” traits like honesty, transparency, thoughtfulness, decisiveness, self-awareness, the ability to apologize for mistakes, empathy, and compassion organically arise from that core belief. These attributes are necessary not only to build a thriving culture but also to sustain it. In fact, a study by Jonathan Haidt of New York University shows that the more employees look up to their leaders and are moved by their compassion, the more loyal they become to their leader.

The Times They Are a Changin’

Lately there’s a strategy catching steam in business: compassionate leadership. At the very basic level, compassionate leadership is when leaders inspire loyal, dedicated, passionate employees by being loyal, dedicated, passionate leaders. What a concept, right? So why then do some leaders struggle to get this right? There’s no one answer because people are different, but in my experience when these traits don’t come naturally, leaders need to consciously work at demonstrating them. This is a much easier task when a company is running smoothly. The challenge is demonstrating these traits during stressful times, and that’s when people tend to revert back to where they’re most comfortable. But trust me: I haven’t encountered one leader who doesn’t want to lead really well. It’s the greatest responsibility we have.

Leaders come with all different strengths. Leadership teams are generally a combination of introverts and extroverts, rule followers and risk-takers, feelers and thinkers, those who inspire during transformational times and those who are more task-oriented, those who are direct communicators and those who have soaring rhetorical styles when they speak. All these qualities are necessary for a business to function really well.

As a business goes through highs and lows, it’s a good strategy to evaluate the moment honestly, and elevate the qualities you need during that time.

Remember, employees are looking for their leaders to set the tone during times of uncertainty. They need to know their leaders have their backs. They need to feel inspired and motivated to climb each hill. More than that, they need to trust their leaders are beside them every step of the way. Leaders who are naturally empathetic, comfortable around people and who can communicate bad news with just the right amount of optimism are the ones you want front and center.

This doesn’t mean the rest of the leadership team should lock themselves away in their offices. We need all of management to rise to the occasion in their own authentic manner. Employees are not a monolithic group so different leadership styles are not only necessary but welcome. The key is engagement! Build an environment of respect, trust and support in which compassion and determination compels us all to thrive in tough times.

In the long-term, my advice to strengthening leadership skills: Really get to know your employees—personally and professionally. Learn to listen. The relationship between leaders and employees ought to be quid pro quo. Be honest and update employees in as close to real-time as possible; the more information they have, the more confident they’ll feel in you as a leader and in the success of the company. Apologize when you get it wrong. Have the self-awareness to recognize your weaknesses, and ask for help from your peers and your employees when necessary. Inject fun and humor into every work day. Above all, respect the individual, their rights and dignity.

Compassionate leadership is about building strong relationships, developing others and making decisions that lead to the best outcomes. Remember: how you engage with your teams will either strengthen or weaken your reputation as a leader. Work with your peers and go for great!

Younified Communications—it Really is All About YOU!

One of my favorite things about working for Avaya is that we’re marketing the same collaboration tools we use to do our jobs. Best of all, we have access to beta versions of our solutions, providing R&D teams with first-hand unedited feedback. Yep, we are drinking our own champagne!

Based on my interactions with customers across the world, I know that many of you work just like we do. Meeting after meeting, virtual, mobile and in-person. It’s not just about the quantity of meetings we all participate in, but the quality of our experience to drive productivity and engagement. As you know, there are many different types of meetings. Let me give you a few examples just from my last week:

  • A group text chat with a few colleagues—getting a quick answer in a sidebar or multi-tasking activity
  • A one-on-one video meeting to review a spreadsheet with one of my staff members
  • A team meeting over desktop or mobile video where we collaborated about an upcoming quarterly plan—many IMs were going on behind the scenes that aligned with meeting topic discussions
  • Remote participation in a customer executive briefing, where the customer’s team was using a video room system in HD
  • A global all-employee meeting broadcast to every person in the company—that’s thousands of people across the world
  • A sales webinar to several hundred participants where we shared a presentation and responded to questions via integrated chat
  • A detailed technical training session on a product with full application sharing for a demonstration of the new user interface
  • Last but not least, a quick impromptu meeting on the phone with one of my team members

Historically, these different meeting types were hosted on multiple different systems or services. This required users to learn different interfaces, which required different logins, passwords, technical requirements, and delayed starts. At times, major compromises resulted based on the meeting scale required, bringing everyone’s level down to the lowest common denominator. The result? The least engaging experience for the audience, and therefore the lowest amount of attention and engagement, and consequently sub-optimal productivity.

Sound familiar? Do you have one solution for IM, another for telephony, perhaps a web conferencing service, a separate audio conferencing solution, another solution for room video conferencing and yet something else for large scale events? All of which fit under the term “unified” communications, but how much of it provides YOU with an engaging and collaborative experience?

A Single, Truly Unified Solution

While the vision of Unified Communications was to merge methods and tools and simplify access, vendors today struggle to fully consolidate all of the communication application infrastructure and cloud-based services into a single platform—at least until now. The Avaya Equinox™ Experience, announced at GITEX in October, is our new platform for business communications, and fulfills the long-sought promise of UC. It is finally all about YOU! One of the key capabilities of Avaya Equinox is that it supports all the different modes of meetings, conferencing and collaboration in one platform. That’s right—one tool that really does it all. There is robust mobility so it works wherever you have a network connection, high scale audio conferencing, extensive web collaboration, multi-media messaging, rich multi-vendor HD video, even event streaming to 100,000 users—and that’s just for starters.

As you would expect, there are many benefits of one platform covering all UC use cases and requirements versus separate platforms or services for messaging, telephony, audio, web, video, and event conferencing. For users, one login and one easy-to-learn solution. For IT, one solution to support with one set of statistics, single provisioning, and a smaller footprint with higher efficiency and lower costs.

I like to call Avaya Equinox the “uber” all calling-conferencing-collaboration solution, where Avaya puts the YOU in unified. But check out Avaya Equinox for yourself at this First Look video.

How many different communication and conferencing applications do you use? Tell me about your experiences—send a note to

How to Explain Cloud Projects to a CFO

As tensions continue to increase in cloud-related discussions at the executive level, so has the importance of effective communication. Much of the debate on cloud investments revolves around one topic: OpEx. It’s understandable why many financial experts seek to avoid OpEx, but the value of investing in cloud services lies beyond this range.

An effective method to bridge this gap is to build a strategic plan, so that you are prepared to let the facts speak for themselves. This method allows for pure business value to be presented, while also giving equal consideration to the weaknesses and challenges faced. Common ground may also be easier to establish when both parties enter the discussion with a clear understanding of the advantages and disadvantages. It’s too easy to let tensions and emotions direct the conversation, so instead present a case grounded in research and thoughtful consideration. The following five tips will assist you in establishing a tested, well-developed plan for cloud implementation.

  1. Gather Research and Data (Know Your Numbers)

    Start by researching case studies that contain TCO (total cost of ownership) and the cost of production for comparable applications. Also consider watching demonstrations to learn how functionality works and how workflows can be implemented—this is pure empirical evidence that companies can try to replicate or expand upon.

    To further pique the interest of your CFO, share data that enumerates how your company will gain a high ROI—this will have the greatest impact on the direction of your conversation.

  2. Consider Feasibility

    Gauge the necessity of the cloud products/services under consideration by analyzing the scale of the project. Develop your own internal criteria based on the particular delivery timeframes, budget, global accessibility, etc. Then compare how your research matches specific project requirements and identify any challenges upfront. Standard guidelines also help to objectively compare applications and ultimately identify the greatest potential benefits. An additional area of consideration is security. There are a number of controls in the area of access, encryption and legal compliance issues, both global and domestic that must be addressed. Although this may seem like a no-brainer, it is often forgotten in the complicated world of cloud considerations.

    In everyday life it’s easier to see the folly in taking on a big endeavor without a coordinated plan. Imagine preparing for a dinner party without knowing how many guests will attend, when they are coming, if they have any dietary restrictions or allergies, and then attempting to cook this meal without a recipe—failure and chaos are expected, if not unavoidable. Luckily, through careful preparation all these mistakes can be easily avoided and the same is true for cloud implementation.

  3. Adopt Standards
    Creating standards is an absolute prerequisite for implementing cloud services, especially when using an agile process. You won’t get the full benefit of cloud if you don’t have standards. Self-service capabilities can be dramatically expanded through the use of standards at all tiers of the infrastructure and application development landscape.

    Examples of these standards include operating systems, middleware, communication protocols, storage access, development tools, development processes, development coding standards, monitoring, alert plans, scaling practices, and even server hardening practices. Additionally, security controls and individual corporate business models are also standards that should be considered. If you are planning a private cloud, ideally you would already have standards in place for the server infrastructure, storage, and networking—in addition to the items listed above. The goal of standardization across an environment is to create simplicity and consistency, which drives automation—the foundation of cloud in an SP-based or private cloud environment.

  4. Create a Prototype Environment
    This experimental approach provides the opportunity to try before you buy and is certain to impress your CFO. A prototype environment serves as proof of concept, which tests if the service is technically and operationally feasible. There are two main considerations within this.

    First is your ability to create and leverage the basic infrastructure as a service, IaaS, offered in your own cloud or that of a service provider. It’s the best way to obtain computing infrastructure without the capital investment. You will be paying for usage on a monthly basis, but ensure it is properly managed so budgets are not exceeded. Again, preparation is key! Get ready to tackle this concern head on and create a plan for how you will manage any issues. IaaS can be a great way to start a development process or even set up a production application deployment.

    Next, determine how it will impact your development process. Two important metrics to track include increased development speed and improvement in the overall cycle of development and testing. This can be achieved by leveraging the standards you have adopted and deployed in your cloud environment, which can be further enhanced by adoption of a DevOps model within your development teams and process.

  5. Think Scalable
    Managing cloud operations is different from rolling out a large capital-intensive project. Cloud services and features can be added and removed dynamically. With proper configuration and standards this can be truly elastic. However, you need to manage within an allocation to ensure you do not overconsume resources and create a negative budget impact. The benefit of it is to spend at the level you need to consume. But you would need to monitor the usage on an on-going basis to ensure that growing the allocation is a premeditated decision with proper budget consideration. Cloud itself cannot be a set-and-forget environment.

    Over time, the benefits of cloud investments compound as infrastructure and labor cost savings are realized through automation, workflow, self-service, etc. So, it’s important to fully seize the opportunity to communicate this tremendous value by directing the conversation to the facts. If you have given thoughtful consideration to the strengths and weakness of these topics, then you are in a better position to objectively analyze the full potential of cloud implementation. This knowledge will let you minimize the emotion of the conversation and develop a strong, well-informed position. With these tips in mind, you are fully prepared to put nebulous cloud conversations in the past.