When clients first meet with me to improve their ability to communicate with colleagues and clients from other cultures, clarity is not usually at the top of their wish list. Why? Because it’s rarely at the top of anyone’s list, even those communicating within their own culture. You find that hard to believe? Well, when was the last time you asked yourself if what you were saying or writing was clear enough?
Instead, most people ask themselves such questions as, “Is this the right word?” Or, “Have I provided enough details?” Maybe even, “Have I explained things thoroughly enough?” Those kinds of questions actually lead in the opposite direction of clarity. Clarity isn’t expressed by the choice of a particular word or phrase. Too many details actually confuse listeners and readers, resulting in a reduction of clarity. And explaining is not an effective approach to communication, unless you are in the process of teaching someone to do a particular task.
In addition to asking ourselves incorrect questions, all of us have developed communication habits over a lifetime of which we are not even aware. That’s not a bad thing — it’s simply your unique communication style.
Your unique communication style simply developed over time, without much conscious choice on your part. Unless you chose at some point to learn a particular method of communication and followed a particular system, you are communicating on autopilot. What I mean by that is, you are speaking and writing spontaneously and assuming that’s all you need to communicate effectively. Sound familiar?
We approach communicating across cultures in the same way. This is especially true when we need to use a foreign language, typically English. We speak spontaneously and assume that’s all we need to do. And indeed, this approach often works well enough. Emails get written. Phone calls get made. Things get done. So no need to improve how you communicate, right? Wrong.
On the surface it may look like effective communication is taking place. However, what I hear daily from my clients and seminar participants tells a different story. They often express a lack of confidence whether how they are writing emails, conducting one-on-one or group meetings and giving presentations is indeed effective enough. Beyond these personal concerns, there are issues of lack of trust and missed deadlines due to ineffective coordination of action or broken promises.
They also report stress, conflict, confusion, anger, lack of motivation, dissatisfaction and even a lack of cooperation with colleagues and clients. What does any of that have to do with communication? In fact, it has everything to do with communication and yet hardly anyone looks to speaking and listening for the solution. No one imagines that learning new ways of communicating can not only result in more effective coordination of action but also increased personal satisfaction and greater mutual trust.
We simply don’t recognize that many of the problems we encounter in our daily work, in both our own cultures and internationally, can be solved by paying attention to speaking and listening. When you think about, it’s obvious that everything in business uses language, whether spoken or written. So if you are not taking any responsibility for communicating clearly across cultures, then you are part of the problem and not part of the solution.
8 Ways to Get Started
I regularly add articles and actions to help you become a clearer and more confident intercultural communicator. Here are some to get you started today: