Even if you’re not crossing oceans, time zones, or into new cultures, communication can be tough. Just think about how hard it is to communicate with your most intimate contacts: your significant other, your kids, your friends. In international business, when we add the pressure of work and deadlines, as well as language and cultural differences, communication gets even more complicated.
With all that in the mix, it’s not hard for communication to break down. To help ease those stresses, here are the top 10 tips for more successful communication with anyone in the world. After all, good communication is key for good business.
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10 Take your time.
Slow down. Pause. Give space. And don’t talk too fast. Especially when you’re communicating via telephone, remember to use conscious speech, slow down, and break your sentences into short, definable sections. Also be sure to give your listener time to translate and digest your words as you go.
9 Ask the other speaker to slow down too.
If the person you’re speaking to is talking too fast or their accent is getting in the way, ask them to slow down. Making it about yourself is always a good trick and a way to avoid offense. Say something like, “I’m from Texas so I probably have a strange accent. I’ll slow down and hope that makes it easier for you to understand me. Since you’re from Hyderabad, your accent is not easy for me, either. Why don’t we both slow down a little, so we can understand each other better?”
8 Keep it simple.
Keep it simple. Don’t use big words. Two-syllable words are better than three-syllable words, and one-syllable words are better than two-syllable words. Don’t say, “Do this in an efficacious way.” Just say, “Do this quickly.”
7 Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
If the person you’re speaking with uses a word you don’t understand, let them know. While “global English” may be the world’s form of communication, it changes from country to country. If your Indian colleague says, “Do the needful,” and you have no idea what that means, tell them. Spoiler alert! It means “take the next step to make things happen.”
6 Avoid “Baseball English.”
Unless your colleagues are familiar with sports terminology—and baseball terminology specifically—they probably won’t understand what you mean when you say things like: Let’s hit a home run or please pinch-hit for me at the meeting. Avoid any confusion by keeping baseball English in the dugout.
5 Get rid of double negatives.
You don’t know what a double negative is, do you? That question is confusing. Phrasing statements or questions in “double negatives” will result in an invalid response in many cultures.
4 Talk to more than one person.
People often “imply” meaning, so the words in your business email or conversation may not represent all, or even the most important information you need. Whenever possible, try to cultivate multiple sources of information to get the complete picture.
3 Start out formally.
In most cultures, people expect a degree of formality at the beginning of communication. Each culture has its own culture-specific way of indicating this formality (“Herr” and “Frau” in Germany, the reversal of family and given names in China, and the use of “san” in Japan for men and women, for example.) Become familiar with these familiarity tokens, and don’t jump to “first names” until you receive a cue from your new colleague to do so.
2 Pay attention to the nonverbal.
If you have the luxury of being face-to-face, tune into nonverbal behaviors. Facial expressions, proximity, physicality, and hand gestures all carry a lot of meaning. Be sure to remember that body movement or nonverbal behavior may have a completely different meaning in another culture. For instance, the U.S. “okay” sign (making a circle by touching the tip of the first finger to the tip of the thumb) is very vulgar in Brazil.
1 Be respectful, be interested, and be humble.
Ask people about their cultures, admit that you are learning, and don’t force or project your cultural ways on them. Remember, we all have a lot to learn and teach each other. No matter what, you are always a guest in a foreign land.
Dean Foster is an expert on culture in business and frequently lectures at various universities and conferences. He is the author of many books including Bargaining Across Borders and the Global Etiquette Guide series. He is the director of his own firm, DFA Intercultural Global Solutions. Learn more at www.deanfosterglobal.com.