In this era of global business and travel, it is truly amazing that anything gets done correctly and on time. With all of the cultural, linguistic and “common sense” differences from country to country and region to region, consider yourself lucky if:
1) You truly understand what people from different cultures are communicating to you in spoken and written words, plus their body language. You really know what that person meant during that conference call, face-to-face meeting or in his e-mail messages. You know it’s much more complicated that merely understanding words; it is “reading between the lines” and correctly interpreting nuanced, subtle messages. Doubtful. Unfortunately, most people don’t really understand.
2) You are understood by your multinational co-workers, clients or managers. If you speak their language, you use it correctly. If relying upon English as the “global language,” you and your colleagues use it the same way. Doubtful. Unfortunately, most people aren’t understood.
Language, The Great Equalizer? Not Really
How skillfully do you communicate across cultures? Are you headed for success, or failure? Here are two examples to consider and two ways to handle each. Where do you stand?
Example #1: (Failure Guaranteed): “They speak English (or I speak their language), so we should have no problem communicating and getting the job done.”
Example #1: (On the Right Track): “They speak English (or I speak their language), but they may not use the same words or have the same meanings, so I should be extra careful to make sure we both understand each other.” Suggestion: Will they be more open and honest in a one-to-one meeting or even off-site, at a local restaurant?
Example #2: (Failure Guaranteed): “He nodded his head in agreement, so that means he understands and supports what I asked him to do.”
Example #2: (On the Right Track): “Well, he did nod his head during the meeting, and it looks like he understood what I said, but I don’t know him well enough to assume he understands and supports what I asked him to do.” Suggestion: Ask several other people who attended the meeting, and who understand both cultures/languages, how they interpreted the head nod.
Global communication will always be more challenging than domestic, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done successfully.