What’s the requirement of being a good intercultural communicator? Within intercultural business contexts that is a question few people ask themselves. Most simply continue to speak, write and listen in their usual way, which they learned in their native language and culture. Even when they speak another language, typically English, they don’t consider communicating differently, although that limits their ability to adapt when communicating interculturally. Here are a few suggestions for what to adapt and why.
Being concise when you speak and write is not about brevity for its own sake. Instead, communicating only what is necessary helps to keep both the speaker and listener focused on what is important. This approach, especially when using English as a second language, is not a limitation but a strength, for three reasons.
First, people listen and read with different levels of English competence. Second, you will often find yourself in meetings or at conferences where you are not given as much time to speak as you would like. Third, your listeners have different cultural expectations of you than you have of yourself. You may feel a need to be eloquent and entertaining when using English but your listeners and readers just want to understand you.
So a lack of conciseness when speaking and writing not only leads to confusion for your listeners and readers, it undermines your confidence in your own English language skills. I recommend that you use vocabulary that you are comfortable with and employ short sentences and simple verb tenses.
I am aware that choosing “concise” as an objective may not be consistent with how you prefer to communicate in your native language. However, within intercultural contexts when using English as a second language, your ability to distil what you want to say or write is a valuable communication skill to develop. In fact, it has value in any language.
Rather than complicating your life by endlessly trying to acquire more English vocabulary and more complex sentence structures, why not simplify things, instead? Practicing to more concisely use the vocabulary and grammar you already know is a much more effective use of your time.
Contrary to popular opinion, communicating clearly in English as a second language is not about using the right word at the right time. So increasing your vocabulary cannot help you here. Clarity actually begins before writing or speaking. Are you clear about what you want to communicate? And do you know how to organize what you decide to communicate so that your listeners or readers from other cultures, at any level of English competence, clearly understand?
Clarity is also connected to how your readers and listeners interpret what you say. If you are not taking responsibility for participating in their interpretations, clarity cannot happen. This is something some of my clients know how to do in their native language. However, they have to be shown how to employ that ability when using English as a second language.
The assessment of what is “clear” and “not clear” is cultural. That is because we all share a common shorthand within our own cultures and languages that goes beyond the words that we choose. However, exactly what is “clear” within an intercultural business context?
You may be surprised to hear my opinion that native English speakers are at the biggest disadvantage within intercultural business situations. Since English is the language being used, they are often not aware that their way of communicating is only “clear” to others from their own culture. So even speaking English perfectly does not guarantee communicating clearly within intercultural business contexts.
Start Improving How You Communicate Across Cultures
When cultures mix under one roof, or work across countries, are there any common standards to ensure clarity? Is such a question even discussed, let alone agreed upon?
That is a failing I observe repeatedly within intercultural business contexts. To remedy that my site, my book and my seminars, are dedicated to raising awareness of this oversight and to providing a variety of solutions. Begin taking steps toward learning to communicate concisely and clearly across cultures. Make that your goal and also make it a discussion point within your intercultural team, department or company.