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Workforce Dynamics and Behavioral Science in Global Trade

May 13, 2024

Episode 12:  Today, Dr. Omar Ayyash, President and CEO of the World Trade Center Kentucky interviews performance psychologist, Dr. Kozhi Maki.

Meet Dr. Kozhi Makai

Kozhi and his wife spend a lot of time with their young son.  As a performance psychologist, he spends the majority of his time working with corporate executives and teams.  He also works in the educational space, on a limited basis.  His corporate clients are typically those managing global brands, located in the US and abroad.  Kozhi helps them to better understand their internal cultures, to develop their interpersonal communication skills and to improve how they leverage agility in a global environment.

The Impact of Global Interconnectedness on Workplace Dynamics

Dr. Makai begins by defining culture.  It can be simply defined as the mental programming of a group of people.  In today’s world, we can have interactions between people who are programmed differently.  Those dynamics are important, if we are to have a unified culture.  This extends into the establishment of a unified vision of success and the organizational culture.  The opportunity is for people to learn how to blend-in and to blend-out, when it matters the most.

Global interconnectedness means that we are affected/impacted by what might be occurring half of a globe away, especially in large companies and organizations.  Technology enables us to leverage many aspects of this environment.

Research indicates there are tensions and challenges, especially when we have a remote-based workforce.  Organizations continue to evolve in learning how to deliver as much value as possible.

Dr. Ayyash discusses a bit of his personal background, prior to coming to the United States for to attend the University of Kentucky.  He views his approach as that of an ambassador who builds bridges across different cultures.  Even in our own community, there is such a rich diversity of cultures that result in a fabric of experiences, languages and perspectives.

Dr. Ayyash Interviews Dr. Kozhi Makai.

Advice on Leading through Global Trade Challenges

Dr. Makai typically begins with an honest assessment of a company’s culture, from both and local and a global perspective.  He poses two interesting questions:  Who is it that we want to be?  What does that look like?

Dr. Makai grew up in a culture with 64 different languages.  In Zambia, they take pride in their approach that avoids pitting one culture against another.  As a nation, they value their varied cultures and the opportunity to interact with them on a daily basis.

The challenge for other individuals is when they encounter another culture that is different from that of their own.  In working with leaders, he reassures them that parts of their culture will not change, so while the unifying culture they aspire to create may not include every aspect of each culture, there often is something that can be defined and recognized as a common goal as it relates to the culture of the organization, at large.  It’s a great place to begin.

Achieving this common cultural vision requires a commitment from everyone who comes into contact with it.  Success occurs when we share a common vision we can chase after, together.  Working together in this pursuit allows our differences to fade into the background.  This is a key insight related to behavioral science in global trade.

Dr. Ayyash returns to the mission of the World Trade Center Kentucky, “We grow trade.”  Pride is a key factor in how the WTCKY approaches its initiatives on behalf of its members.  In 2023, Kentucky exported more than $40 billion.  The need to focus on building cross-cultural communication is still extremely important.

Building Strong Communication and Collaboration Skills within Trade Teams

It’s important to clarify what communication is.  Most people view it as ping pong with a message being sent by one person and a message being returned by the other.  In reality, it’s much more.  The objective is to create an opportunity for shared meaning.  Achieving this will have a significant influence on the development of our relationship.

Dr. Makai points out that trade and organizational dynamics are built around relationships.  Interpersonal skills play a very important role.  He highly recommends and encourages leaders to develop the ability to listen better.  In so doing, we use our eyes, our ears and our whole being.

One of Dr. Makai’s mentors defines listening as a form of spiritual hospitality.  You’re literally inviting someone into our very being.  A welcoming sense of hospitality in international trade conveys that the other person is welcome here.  Ideally, they will respond in kind.  Each has a value to the other.

While value is important to a business deal, perspective is also noteworthy.  When you bring both to a cross-cultural exchange and/or relationship, it results in an ongoing, humanizing aspect.  Leaders must focus on bringing a healthy perspective.  This is made possible through the ability to effectively listen.  More often than not, the result will be a commitment to making value-based decisions.

The Importance of Negotiation Skills and Trust in Global Negotiations

As Dr. Makai observes, negotiations are conversations.  His colleague wrote a book in which he stated, “People will negotiate with you under two conditions.  If you can help them or you think you can hurt them.”

When it comes to negotiating across cultures, it’s an absolute win-win if you believe both sides have something of value to offer.  This makes the negotiations somewhat easier.  Achieving a win-win, because you are helping people, is a proper goal.  We have to adapt our negotiating style according to what’s most important to us.  This can make it less of a game, and more about relationships.  Is there a way for you to enter a negotiation by finding ways to make it more meaningful for all involved?

Dr. Ayyash comments how negotiations sometimes have to follow the context with which the parties are dealing.  The size of the deal, the location the negotiation is taking place, the various other factors involve all add to the context of the negotiation.

A Few Comments Related to Personal Experiences from Dr. Kozhi Makai

Dr. Makai finds himself often working with friends.  Many of his clients have become his friends.  They enjoy the opportunity to spend quality time together, because it reinforces their relationships.  He views the cost of his attending certain celebrations or activities as investments.

Over time, you’ll get to see the good, the bad and the ugly.  That’s all part of the relationship.  Regardless of the scale of the clients’ organizations, he realizes they each take pride in their focus on making a difference.  Rather than using relationships, Kozhi looks for opportunities to nurture and curate his relationships.  It’s much easier when those opportunities involve friends with whom you want to spend time.  Sure, business and trade are topics of discussion, but so is life, family, sports, etc.

Trust becomes the foundation of successful relationships.  Dr. Makai comments that trust is difficult to gain but very easy to lose.  There’s a humanizing component to trust.  Thus, it must be curated through shared experiences.

Leaders shouldn’t be afraid to make mistakes.  Most of us will learn from our mistakes.  Therefore, whether it’s global trade or some other interpersonal exchange, we should strive to create the kind of trust that says, “I’ll have your back, no matter what happens.”  If we aren’t allowed to risk making mistakes, innovation won’t occur.

Dr. Makai concludes his comments with a focus on consistent improvements.  He likens our skills to an axe.  He has an old axe in his office.  He explains that it represents what happens to our skills if we don’t take the time to sharpen them, on a regular basis.  If you neglect this focus, your challenges will seem increasingly more difficult.  We need to be working on sharpening our skills.  As leaders, this will help us to make a difference in people’s lives.

Dr. Ayyash takes a moment to explain how the World Trade Center Kentucky has a toolbox to help professionals navigate the international marketplace.  The WTCKY also has programs designed for universities.


To Contact Dr. Kozhi Makai:




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