When I first begin helping my clients adapt how they communicate within an intercultural business context, whether for a report or a presentation, the first concern they often express is that they do not have enough to say. In my experience, that is hardly ever the problem. In fact, the most fundamental problem we all face when we communicate interculturally is that we have too much to say within the time we are given to say it.
It is not news to anyone that the pace of business is faster today than ever. These days meetings, presentations, video conferences, messaging tools, emails and phone calls are all demanding our time. The overwhelm that’s felt is due not only to this time pressure but also to the inability to fit our habitual way of communicating into the new time frames and forms. So you have to adapt your cultural way of communicating, not only to the new intercultural English-speaking context in which you find yourself; you also have to adapt to the accelerating pace, as well as to new types of communication technologies. But where have any of us learned to do that?
Everyone is doing their best but in a very predictable way: the way they learned to communicate in their personal, cultural and professional past. In short, we have all learned to communicate in some other time and place. But is that a fit for the intercultural present? Frankly, it isn’t.
I will give you an example of what I mean. I was contacted by a VP of sales from an international company based in Paris. He contacted me because he had recently encountered exactly this phenomenon of shrinking time frames. He told me that the firm had recently been purchased by a Norwegian company. When the new Norwegian CEO was scheduled to meet with him, my client took the time to prepare an extra-long presentation to present his team, its projects and his recommendations for continued growth and success.
He had always been entirely confident of his presentation skills and had consistently received positive feedback. He was dynamic, spoke English well and knew how to present statistics and targets persuasively. He preferred a longer format of up to an hour for presentations because it allowed him to develop all his arguments and provide lots of facts and explanations. This is a communication style that had served him well in France with French clients and French colleagues, but in his own words “I was shocked by how badly this presentation went with the new CEO. I can’t stop thinking about it.” Apparently, what had happened was that five minutes into his presentation the Norwegian CEO abruptly said, “Stop. What I want to hear are your recommendations.” Translation: give me a short action plan.
On a practical level the CEO’s request wasn’t unreasonable. In many cultures, it is not necessary to give extensive facts and explanations about one’s professional opinions. That is the style my client had habitually used so when he was asked to adapt his style in the moment, he was totally destabilized. He simply did not know what to do.
I reassured him that the main issue was that his French ‘argumentation style’ structure was not a fit for the new time frames, especially with people from other cultures. What he needed to learn was a new structure that would be more in tune with the listeners’ needs of other cultures, who valued succinctness more than thoroughness.
Communicating with the CLEAR Method
Because I observed this growing need in the international marketplace for over a decade, I developed the CLEAR Method for communicating across cultures. It provides my clients with a new process for deciding what to say and then packaging how to say it clearly, concisely and quickly.
After we finished our series of sessions together my client told me, “Thanks to you, I actually feel like I am communicating more in less time than I did before.”
I am absolutely convinced that is something we all need to learn in today’s fast paced intercultural business world, in which we are all increasingly feeling the pressure of time. My interactive workshop on presenting across cultures and my book Dance of Opinions can show you step by step how to communicate across cultures more effectively in less time.