The sun has long since set on the British Empire, but its legacies live on, not least in the form of the English language – today the most widely used language for conducting international business. But while being an English speaker – native or otherwise, is a distinct advantage when it comes to communicating internationally, language is only one aspect of culture, and to communicate effectively in a globalised world requires a broad range of skills.
It’s a topic I spoke about recently when I gave a presentation at the Women in Energy seminar – par of the Society of Petroleum Engineers annual conference. The petroleum industry is truly global, requiring face-to-face and virtual communications, between professionals from many different cultural backgrounds, but regardless of the business sector you work in, the basic skills you will need to acquire for successful global communications are the same:
- A level of cultural awareness
The starting point for any meaningful intercultural communication is for all parties to recognise cultural diversity, and develop a level of understanding of each other’s culture. Knowledge of another persons’ beliefs and customs shows respect, and enables you to see things from their perspective. Cultural awareness will also help you to recognise how your own cultural origins may colour your thinking – so you can take action to counter instinctive responses if necessary.
Cultural awareness gives you a filter through which you can run communications, to check that the meaning of what is being said or done is clearly understood by both parties.
- An understanding of International English
There are wide variations in how English has evolved and is spoken around the globe. These differences – sometimes subtle, sometimes profound, introduce the potential for misunderstanding and miscommunication. As a result, what is sometimes called ‘International English’ has become the lingua franca of international business, rather than British English – or any other kind of English for that matter.
International English has been developed to be universally and easily understood across the world. Promoting clarity and accessibility, it avoids slang, puns, wordplay, colourful phrases, idioms and vocabulary that is harder for non-native English speakers to understand. Like any language, it can be simplified to a greater or lesser extent depending on the context in which it’s being used.
- Be able to interpret body language
Non-verbal body language has a significant role to play in face-to-face communications; facial expressions, gestures and posture can all be unspoken indicators of how an individual is feeling – and even point to a meaning contrary to what’s actually being said. But body language is far from universal, and the same signal can carry very different meanings within different cultures.
Where there may be no shared language, it’s natural to resort to using body language to communicate, but without a basic understanding of how different cultures use this medium, it can add a further level of complexity.
- Be competent in virtual communications
For practical and economic reasons, business communications will frequently be conducted virtually, as organisations take advantage of the benefits of new technologies, and for individuals and teams, Virtual or Remote Working (VRW) is becoming increasingly common.
While communicating remotely is an efficient and cost-effective way to work, the fact that parties are not in the same physical space can bring its own challenges, and these are further exaggerated if there is an intercultural dimension. Participants will need intercultural VRW training to make sure that distance and technology do not interfere with clear communications. Contact us to request a FREE guide to VRW working.
With an understanding of each of these general areas, you will have all the tools you need to undertake effective communications in a globalised world. Is a lack of international communication skills limiting the success of your business? Expatknowhow can undertake bespoke intercultural training to develop and improve the global communication skills of you and your team. Call us now for more information.