If you’ve ever done business outside of your home country, you’ve no doubt experienced at some point confusion or misunderstanding during conversations with your international business partners. Perhaps your message did not get across 100%. Perhaps the other person continually asked you to repeat yourself. Whatever the reason, miscommunication is a common occurrence when you’re working across cultures and across languages.
To help you avoid unnecessary misunderstandings, and make your next international business trip smooth, I’ve compiled the following 4 tips for you:
1. Slow Down and Pause
If business conversations are in your native language, it can be really tempting to speak at your normal pace. But when others continually ask you to repeat yourself or look at you with blank eyes, it’s a strong signal that you’re speaking too fast. Remember, the other person may only occasionally practice speaking in your native language. They’ll need more time to digest and understand what you’ve just said, and then to formulate a response in their mind.
2. Speak Clearly and Enunciate Properly
When you speak too fast, your words tend to merge together and for a non-native speaker of your language, this can cause much confusion. They won’t be able to identify where your words start or finish. And to their ears, your sentences will only sound like mumbo jumbo. Instead of speaking as you normally would with your close colleagues, take the time to enunciate your words, one-by-one, from beginning to end. For example, replace the rolled enunciation of “impor-an docs”, with “important documents”.
3. Keep your Vocabulary Simple And Avoid Slang
The aim of business conversation is not to flaunt the range of vocabulary you’ve mastered. It’s to get your message across in a clear and efficient manner, so you can get your job done. Keeping your vocabulary simple and avoiding slang will absolutely aid this process. Instead of saying, “that proposal really came out of left field”, try “that proposal was really unexpected”. Or instead of saying, “that decision was a no-brainer”, say “that decision was easy”.
4. Get straight to the Point and Don’t Hide Your Message
Depending on how fluent the other person is in your native language, they may not pick up subtleties that you commonly use for suggestions, hints, or vague disapprovals. Request such as “If it’s not too much trouble, could you get that report to me by Friday?” may not be understood as an urgent or important request and come Friday, you could still be waiting for that report. Eliminate vague requests and directly say, “I need that report by Friday. Can you finish it by then?”.
Basically, if you see the other person looks puzzled, or is responding with hesitancy, slow down and make an effort to speak clearly using language that is simple and cannot be misunderstood.
Do you have any experience communicating across borders? How do you make sure your message gets across?
Header image courtesy of Sam Churchill/Flickr.com under Creative Commons License. Graphics added by Kara Ronin.