Language makes or breaks
Communication problems do not arise solely due to the fact that people have different native languages – although this is undoubtedly an issue, it is also linked to the fact that different cultures use language differently.
What one culture feels to be a very positive communication style can often be considered a very poor communication style in another culture. All too often approaches to communication that differ from the norm in your own culture can be misinterpreted as a personality defect. Instead of people thinking, ‘that’s the way they use language in that particular country’ people associate language style with negative characteristics such as rudeness or evasiveness.
A major difficulty in many situations is that non-native speakers are obviously at a serious disadvantage in all international communication scenarios. No matter how good somebody is in a second language, they are never as fluent as they are in their native language.
Very often, the common international language of meetings will be English and native speakers will make few efforts to speak in a ‘user-friendly’ fashion to help their non-native speaker colleagues or clients. Native speakers need to think very carefully about their use of language when interacting in an international context.
Remember that English is spoken in different ways by different people – for example UK English differs significantly from US English. The use of clichés and jargon is not appropriate – the meaning is not always clear and can be mis-interpreted.
In many international situations, communication takes place by email, conference call or video conferencing rather than on a face-to-face basis. These technologies are an integral and vital part of international working, but need to be carefully managed if we are to avoid the dangers inherent in non-face-to-face communication. The benefits brought by these communication technologies by far outweigh the risks, but even greater benefits can be gained by the efficient exploitation of certain key techniques.
It is important to select the best communication medium for each situation. Do not simply communicate in one particular way because that is how you have always done it or because it is an easy solution. You will lose deals when doing business outside of your region if you don’t adapt your communication style to the culture with whom you are engaging.
Have you adapted the delivery of your words to suit the circumstances and culture in which you do business?