How cultural differences can stop effective communication

David WoodBlog, Featured Blogs

In English we have an expression “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” which, when related to international team working, should mean that the performance of the team as a whole will be enhanced by all the different personality types and cultural backgrounds of the team’s “parts”.  However, this is only true when different viewpoints, different working styles and different communication styles are valued and treated as enhancers not inhibitors.

High performing international teams know how to benefit and capitalise on these differences. 

However, what happens when your natural communication and/or cultural style inhibits you from connecting and communicating with others effectively?

Difficulties international teams may face:

Our international clients tell us that they find the following situations difficult:

  • Interrupting on a conference call to check understanding
  • Asking team members to slow down for the non-native speakers in the team
  • Asking clients to slow down, or to repeat something they’ve said
  • Being effective in social situations, knowing how to join in conversations
  • Knowing how to build and develop social conversations
  • Knowing how to engage in effective networking at conferences
  • Making sure all points are recorded and actioned at international meetings
  • Getting real agreement in meetings

How we can help you overcome these difficulties:

  1. Identify the cause of the problem

One of our 1:1 coaching clients (from Tokyo) recently told us that most of the above applied to her, and that in particular she found that interrupting native speakers and intervening in conference calls and social situations extremely difficult. This was despite her advance level in English.

On further discussion it was clear that there were two key issues inhibiting her performance. Firstly, her own culture (both Chinese and Japanese) was preventing her from being willing to interrupt, this was a result of both her perception of politeness, and her perception of her “place” in the business hierarchy in the meeting.  Secondly, she didn’t feel she had the language options to say something polite, yet effective.

  1. Create a practical strategy to overcome the difficulties

Having language strategies for tricky situations is the key to effective international communication.  This involves learning and practising useful interventions, interruptions and conversation management techniques. To help our client mentioned above we created a help sheet for her of useful language strategies to use in difficult situations.  Subsequently she has told us that this help sheet has been so useful that we thought it would be worth sharing with everyone, just in case it’s helpful for you in your situations.

Download your free copy of our language strategy sheet here.

If your “difficult situations” are different, please let us know, we are continually updating our materials to benefit our clients’ real work scenarios so that they are directly relevant to your needs.

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