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Johnny Can’t Write and Now Needs to Communicate in a Global Economy

It’s bad enough “Johnny” can’t write, now in a global economy he’s going to need to be able to communicate across oceans and borders to be successful.

The business world has become a global workplace with companies competing in worldwide markets.  As businesses grow and expand into other countries, human resource professionals and other business leaders are required to communicate with not only the employees at their own location, but also with employees located around the globe.  In addition, employees may be required to communicate with co-workers, customers and suppliers from different countries and cultures.  Learning how to communicate effectively in the global workplace and interact with a diverse workforce is essential; however, it can also be a challenge.

Below are several tips for communicating in a global workplace:

Objectivity:  Be objective about people, countries and cultural characteristics.  Employees should learn to judge people by their work performance, not by their personal characteristics

Openness:  Be open to differences and don’t assume an attitude of superiority.

Flexibility:  Be flexible when working with people or co-workers who are different from you.  This may include looking for an alternate method and style of communication, or learning to adjust your approach when interacting with such an individual.

Sensitivity:  Remember the golden rule; treat others as you would expect to be treated.  Be sensitive to diversity that might affect communication and strive to be courteous and considerate of others’ cultures and customs.

Self-Awareness:  Don’t forget to focus on yourself and root out biases and misconceptions that might interfere with effective communication.

Knowledge:  Take the time to learn about the languages, countries, customs and cultures of the people you will communicate with on the job.  Also be aware of and take into consideration the different time zones you may be communicating to.

Patience:  Be aware that people from other cultures and countries may communicate with you in ways that are unfamiliar, so you may need to slow down and be patient with them.

Depending on what country your global co-workers are from can determine how they interact and communicate.  For example, communication experts have identified “high-context” cultures and “low-context” cultures.  The high-context cultures, such as Asia, India, and the Middle East, may feel more comfortable with consensus rather than with competition; place a high priority on politeness and social conventions; and rely more on intuition and feelings when doing business.  In addition, high-context cultures tend to emphasize relationships when doing business, which makes rapport and trust-building important components of global business communication. Low-context cultures, such as the United States, Canada and Northern Europe, may prefer direct rather than indirect communication, competition rather than consensus, logic and facts rather than intuition and feelings, and action-oriented rather than relationship-oriented communication.

Here are a few other cultural differences that may also affect how we communicate globally:

  • Customs such as dress, food, holidays, etc. vary from culture to culture.
  • People from other countries may have a difference sense of time than you do.  Therefore, decision making may take place at a slower pace than what you are used to.
  • Humor often doesn’t translate well from culture to culture.
  • The experiences and world view of people you communicate with may very well be different from your own.
  • Business etiquette often differs from culture to culture.

There are bound to be mistakes and misinterpretations in communication when dealing with a multi-national organization.  However, most people will forgive a cultural error as long as the individual is thoughtful, respectful, and polite.  When problems arise, don’t wait and see what happens because things could get worse.  Instead, work with others to resolve the communication problems in a professional manner and get help from a co-worker or supervisor if needed.  Most importantly, employees should learn from the experience and use that knowledge to communicate better in the future.

For more information about communicating and training a multi-cultural workforce, click here to download our white paper titled, Do’s and Don’ts for Training Diverse, Multicultural, and International Audiences.

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