Dot­tie Li: Break­ing through the bar­ri­ers

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By DONG LESHUO in Washington leshuodong@chi­nadai­

Mary­land’s Top 100 Women of 2015 were hon­ored on June 1 at the Joseph Mey­er­hoff Sym­phony Hall in Bal­ti­more. Among them was cross-cul­tural com­mu­ni­ca­tions ex­pert Dot­tie Li, the first Chi­nese woman ever to re­ceive the honor.

“I feel very hum­bled,” she said.

The award, launched in 1996 by The Daily Record, rec­og­nizes out­stand­ing women who are not only lead­ers pro­fes­sion­ally, but also ded­i­cate their time and energy to com­mu­nity en­gage­ment and men­tor­ing.

“It is good to choose the work that I’ve been called to do,” Li said. “And while it is great to do the work, it is also grat­i­fy­ing to be rec­og­nized. I feel like I’m paving the road for oth­ers to fol­low.”

Hav­ing been in­volved in cross-cul­tural com­mu­ni­ca­tion train­ing for 20 years, Li has made a name for her­self within fed­eral gov­ern­ment agen­cies and other or­ga­ni­za­tions.

She co-founded Tran­sPa­cific Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, a bou­tique public af­fairs and com­mu­ni­ca­tions firm serv­ing gov­ern­ment agen­cies, cor­po­ra­tions, as­so­ci­a­tions and non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tions.

The com­pany pro­vides cross­cul­tural com­mu­ni­ca­tions train­ing for for­eign-born pro­fes­sion­als and their su­per­vi­sors. Clients who need to deal with media are taught the skills to present them­selves and their mes­sage.

“My mis­sion for the past 20 years has been to give peo­ple the tools they need to suc­ceed,” Li said.

“I feel very priv­i­leged to play a small role in help­ing Asian Amer­i­cans, es­pe­cially Chi­nese like my­self from the Chi­nese main­land. I want peo­ple to be­come ac­cul­tur­ated in this so­ci­ety, so that we can all be more suc­cess­ful,” Li said.

On ar­riv­ing in the US in 1988, Li went to the Univer­sity of Mo­bile in Alabama. Af­ter grad­u­at­ing in 1991, she got a chance to work as a broad­caster in Washington, DC, and within a year got a job as a pro­ducer at C-SPAN.

By 1996, Na­tional Jour­nal called her one of “Washington’s Movers and Shakers”.

In 1997, she got the chance to work at the White House, trav­el­ing across the coun­try and around the world on the media ad­vance team. She learned a lot and laid a solid foun­da­tion for her ca­reer.

“One of the most chal­leng­ing but mem­o­rable events hap­pened in Bangladesh,” Li said.

In 2000, Bill Clin­ton be­came the first US pres­i­dent to visit Bangladesh. Li was part of the ad­vance team in the coun­try get­ting things ready as the big day ap­proached.

“We spent a num­ber of days work­ing in a re­mote vil­lage out­side Dhaka to set the scene,” she said.

The vil­lage was one of the poor­est places on earth, but the vil­lagers were quite wel­com­ing and kind, and ex­cited about the im­por­tant visit.

The night be­fore the pres­i­dent’s sched­uled ar­rival, the team got word that the visit to the vil­lage was can­celed for se­cu­rity rea­sons.

“Ev­ery­one was deeply dis­ap­pointed, es­pe­cially the vil­lagers hard, but they don’t get the recog­ni­tion they de­serve,” Li said.

“Whether they work in the fed­eral gov­ern­ment or the pri­vate sec­tor, if they can’t over­come the com­mu­ni­ca­tion bar­rier, they can’t get a seat at the ta­ble. If you can’t get a seat at the ta­ble, you end up be­ing on the menu, and that’s not good,” Li said.

Li thinks that a lot of cross­cul­tural com­mu­ni­ca­tion fails be­cause of a lack of con­fi­dence.

In tra­di­tional Chi­nese cul­ture, be­ing mod­est is con­sid­ered a virtue. But in Western cul­ture, be­ing con­fi­dent is deemed im­por­tant for a suc­cess­ful per­son­al­ity.

“Con­fi­dence can­not be gained with­out sub­stance,” Li ex­plained.

And sub­stance, to Li, in­cludes lan­guage and cul­ture.

The first class Li teaches in her cross-cul­tural com­mu­ni­ca­tion classes is “Ac­cent Re­duc­tion and Mod­i­fi­ca­tion.”

“Ei­ther we can­not com­mu­ni­cate well, or we em­bar­rass peo­ple when we try to com­mu­ni­cate with them,” Li said.

“If you can­not make your point in a com­plete, co­he­sive and cor­rect way in a meet­ing, no­body is go­ing to take you se­ri­ously,” Li said.

Li tells a story of a distin­guished Chi­nese-Amer­i­can sci­en­tist at the Na­tional In­sti­tutes of Health, who is con­sid­ered a lead­ing re­search sci­en­tist in the US. While the sci­en­tist is out­stand­ing in her pro­fes­sional field, she has been plagued by her poor com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills. Her staff wrote a let­ter last year com­plain­ing about it, threat­en­ing her ca­reer. Her su­pe­ri­ors man­dated sen­si­tiv­ity train­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tion in­struc­tion.

Af­ter work­ing with Li for a few months, her com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills had im­proved enough that she was pro­moted.

If you don’t have the skills to com­mu­ni­cate, you can­not be part of the team. It’s like you al­most don’t ex­ist. If there is a pro­mo­tion or ad­vance­ment op­por­tu­nity, they will not think of us be­cause we don’t ‘rock the boat’, we don’t make noises they pay at­ten­tion to,” Li said.

“We must bridge the gaps be­tween the cul­tures, so we can have an im­por­tant role to

Hon­ors & Awards: play,” Li said.

“Amer­ica opened many pos­si­bil­i­ties in my life. And I love that so much of my work helps Asian Amer­i­cans im­prove their com­mu­ni­ca­tions skills so they can be more suc­cess­ful in ful­fill­ing their own Amer­i­can Dream,” Li said.


Dot­tie Li,

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