Leverage Assertive & Clear Communication for Business Success

By: Yamilette Cano, President, The Mexican Chamber of Commerce - Hong Kong | Sunday, 2 June 2024

Yamilette Cano is an international relations professional who turned into an event management professional. The Hong Kong based leader is also an entrepreneur, having founded LOUDER Global. The large-scale experience makes her an industry expert in assertive communication with specialities in Event Management and Production, Negotiation & Conflict Resolution Coaching and what not.

In a recent conversation with the Global Woman Leader Magazine, Yamilette explains about assertive communication and startup communication. She also talks about the political and economic climate of Hong Kong, emphasising the importance of adaptability quotient. Read out the conversation to know more.

In what ways do you think assertive communication transforms the professional landscape for women in Hong Kong's business market? Can you share a personal anecdote that illustrates this transformation?

Being a communication professional, I believe this is the most important skill to develop, and it's one we are born with. We start communicating with our parents, teachers, and peers from a young age, and continue doing so professionally. Building clear and concise branding in how you communicate with others is crucial. Therefore, understanding your own strengths and weaknesses is the first step, as effective communication comes from within. If you are not comfortable with what you offer to the world, it's difficult to connect with others. Moreover, developing assertive communication involves building confidence in your strengths and using them to address weaknesses and challenges.

I recently heard a speech by Sarah Jean Ho, an etiquette expert featured on Netflix, which reinforced these ideas. She said that etiquette is a way to feel comfortable around others and to make others comfortable around you. I totally agree. For me, etiquette is equivalent to communicating assertively. The goal is to make others feel comfortable so we can exchange ideas and have conversations, rather than just instructing others without that exchange of information. In the business world, assertive communication involves creating comfort, adaptability, and flexibility. This encourages others to be open, trust you, and collaborate willingly, not just out of obligation. So, connection is key.

Finding connections with others and engaging in meaningful conversations is crucial. In startup communication, many people think it means being direct and punctual without much expression. However, it depends on the context. If the situation requires more expressiveness and detail, you should provide that. If brevity and directness are needed, adapt accordingly. An inspiring example comes from a book I'm currently reading, "The Super Communicator." It reinforces the idea that finding common ground and having meaningful conversations is essential. The author emphasizes that when we connect with others, conversations flow, leading to mutual comfort and confidence. This creates a positive feedback loop.

For anyone aiming for a successful career, the ability to communicate and connect with others is crucial. This is especially important for women, who often hesitate to express themselves or speak up due to self-doubt. This tendency is not unique to Hong Kong but is more prevalent in the Asian market. Women frequently question their competence, wondering if they are good enough, knowledgeable enough, or if someone else might be better. They often seek perfection before speaking up. However, to build connections, collaborate, and engage in meaningful conversations, it is essential to speak up.

Finding your ideal brand, understanding your strengths, and sharing your ideas to connect—not just to promote yourself—can help advance your career, build better relationships, and make you more memorable.

A personal example: When we launched Louder Connect last year, I faced doubts because it was my event. While organizing events for others was easier, doing it for myself raised questions like, "Is this idea good enough?" and "Will people attend?" These doubts hindered my development.

The success of my event came once I realized that I needed to practice what I preached. I had to feel comfortable with my strengths, such as speaking up, listening, and making others feel comfortable. I had to overcome my fear and actively seek connections. The worst that could happen was someone saying no. Surprisingly, when I asked for support, whether financial or in-kind sponsorship, most people were receptive and said yes. Even those who couldn't help directly often directed me to others who could. This experience reinforced the idea that being assertive doesn't mean being perfect or having everyone agree with you. It's about building connections and relationships by leveraging your strengths. The results can be unexpectedly positive, leading to successful communication and outcomes.

With Hong Kong's dynamic regulatory environment, how do you advise business leaders to communicate assertively yet diplomatically with regulatory bodies to advocate for their business interests?

Be aware of your strengths. We understand the context of the situation and what it requires for you to connect. If one of your strengths is to speak up and speak loudly, but the context doesn't allow that, how do you adapt? How do you become a flexible and agile individual? This doesn't mean abandoning your values or becoming another person. It means being like a chameleon, able to transform as the situation requires. Communication and the way we exchange ideas is like music. No one likes a flat song; it's boring.

Every interaction has its ups and downs, rhythm and rhyme. Sometimes the audience is open to rock music, so the conversation becomes faster and stronger, with words that carry different weight. Other times, the audience prefers classical music, requiring a lower tone and softer words. This is diplomacy. It's not about avoiding your true thoughts or being someone else; it's about adaptability, or AQ (Adaptability Quotient). We have EQ, SQ, IQ, and AQ.

When promoting your business or interests, if your words could lead to a negative reaction, think about playing classical music, being in tune with the audience. In interactions with government officials or those in power, adapt to a slower pace, listening more before reacting. In a pitch competition or an event with limited time to sell your idea, you can be more animated, use a higher tone of voice, and more mannerisms because the scenario allows it. It's about etiquette and assertiveness, ensuring that whatever you do or say makes the audience comfortable and confident.

Hong Kong is known for its innovation and entrepreneurial spirit. How can assertive communication foster a culture of innovation within an organization, and what specific communication techniques can drive creative thinking and problem-solving?

If we don't speak, how do we know the idea would work? Innovation means exchanging various ideas, points of view, perspectives, and contexts. That's why it's called brainstorming. If we don't communicate and share ideas, even if they seem silly, they might work in the right context and moment. Innovation is about opening up and communicating ideas. It's crucial to have a scenario where ideas can be woven together to make sense. A great idea needs someone to enforce, promote, and make it work; otherwise, it remains just a great idea. It's important to be surrounded by people who can help make the idea happen and to have the necessary resources—human, financial, time, and place. Innovation involves generating ideas, discussing and analyzing them, and then implementing them to bring the ideas to life.

The political and economic climate in Hong Kong can be unpredictable. How do we adapt our communication strategies to navigate through times of uncertainty and maintain stakeholder trust and confidence in our business decisions?

Many places in the world have a complex political environment, not just Hong Kong. My advice to anyone running a business, working for a corporation, or starting a business is to step back, observe carefully, and decide on the best approach for the moment. It's important to discern when to voice our thoughts and when to hold them for a more opportune moment. If expressing ourselves immediately could harm those present, it's wise to reconsider our approach. Assertiveness isn't about constantly blurting out our opinions; it requires strategic communication. Being aware of the context, including any political dynamics, is crucial. We navigate this terrain by analyzing, listening, and observing before deciding on the best approach. Adaptability is essential; repeatedly emphasizing its importance underscores its role in fostering meaningful connections and aligning conversations with our counterparts.

In the significance of networking in Hong Kong's business ecosystem, can you share your insights on leveraging strategic communication initiatives to cultivate enduring professional relationships and expand business opportunities?

In Hong Kong, networking is notably robust and effective. Having worked in various places like Canada and Mexico, I can confidently compare and affirm the strength of Hong Kong's networking culture. People are genuinely supportive, readily offering assistance or referrals if they can't directly help. They welcome discussions and conversations, creating an environment ripe for collaboration. To leverage this environment, one must actively participate, showing up, speaking up, and consistently presenting ideas. In Hong Kong, opportunities won't come knocking if you're not proactive in showcasing your talents and ideas.

You might catch someone's attention initially, but if you vanish into the background, consumed by perfecting the technicalities of your product or service, people will soon forget about you. In today's world, attention spans are short. To effectively utilize networking platforms, you must consistently be present, actively sharing your brand, ideas, and viewpoints. It's only by maintaining visibility and engagement that you can truly make an impact and stay on people's radars.

People are generally open to helping, so when considering seeking assistance, there's often a choice between friends and professional connections. Asking friends for help isn't nepotism; it's essential for progress. Even if they decline, it's worth asking. If people are willing, they'll find a way to assist. Building genuine relationships through networking is crucial. Merely collecting business cards isn't effective; it's about nurturing connections. When people feel valued, they're more likely to offer support when needed. Humans crave recognition, so acknowledging others is key. Knowing when and how to ask is crucial, as is adapting to different situations. As an entrepreneur, I've learned that if you don't ask, you won't receive help, and nobody will know about your needs, especially when there's no steady income.

Doing the groundwork is essential. Attending networking events, establishing a presence, and cultivating a personal brand are crucial steps. These efforts attract attention and create connections based on perceived value and genuine interest. Beyond initial interactions, fostering bonds is key. It's about ensuring that others not only see value but also desire to engage and collaborate because of the connection and trust established.

Reflecting on your journey, how has mastering assertive communication contributed to your growth as a leader, and what lessons can other leaders in Hong Kong draw from your experiences?

Communicating has been essential for me throughout my dancing career. Even without using words, I conveyed messages through my body. Assertiveness in my movements was crucial for the audience to buy into the story I portrayed. This skill empowered me to seek out the right people and environments to develop and achieve my goals. In Hong Kong, where I relocated from Mexico, effective communication helped me build a supportive community, away from family. This network became my cheerleaders, reciprocating the support I offered. Establishing connections and communicating assertively have been pivotal in forming not just a business but also a globally dispersed team. Despite the distance, we deliver quality work, with team members in Thailand, London, and occasionally Nigeria.

Effective communication, coupled with openness and transparency, has been instrumental in our business's growth. Despite having team members who split their time between here, Canada, and other parts of the world, we've thrived. This assertiveness in communication has enabled us to venture into areas I never imagined, such as entrepreneurship. Initially, I hadn't considered myself capable of being an entrepreneur, but through connections and timely communication, I stumbled upon the opportunity. Grateful for this chance, it has also encouraged me to explore other unconventional aspects of life, like attending events or visiting places I never thought possible.

Now, communication has also helped me forge a supportive community, especially crucial as a first-time mom. While my parents visit frequently, they're not always present day-to-day, unlike those with family nearby. Consequently, I've cultivated a network that aids me in navigating motherhood. Lastly, what advice would I offer to aspiring women leaders, particularly in Hong Kong? Don't shy away from expressing yourself openly and leveraging your emotions to your advantage. There's a misconception that emotions hinder career progress, especially for women, but they can be a powerful asset. Embrace your emotions; they're often a strength for women. However, it's vital to understand, analyze, and manage them effectively. Recognize when and where to express emotions, considering the context and audience. While emotions can be powerful tools, their appropriateness varies depending on the situation. Learn to navigate them skillfully to maximize their impact without compromising professionalism.

Firstly, prioritize being in tune with your emotions, embracing and understanding them fully. Secondly, don't hesitate to communicate your emotions openly. It's okay not to have all the answers, and seeking help when needed is crucial. Thirdly, surround yourself with a supportive community and cultivate allies, regardless of gender. Collaboration and connection drive innovation and progress. It's not about "us versus them" but rather everyone working together towards common goals. Lastly, never underestimate the power of a smile. Body language, including a genuine smile, can be a powerful communication tool when used effectively to convey confidence and positivity.