Global Communication Clarity : Part One

Business conferenceOne of the greatest challenges in today’s business environment is leading globally dispersed, diverse, and multicultural teams. The teams can be made up of top management, employees, suppliers, agents, subcontractors, and anyone else with whom you happen to be partnering at the time.

To lead effectively, global leaders must have Global Communication Clarity (GCC). It is the capacity to speak in a way that is compelling, effective, and most importantly, understood.

I work around the world as a keynote speaker, business consultant, and trainer. To effectively communicate with top and middle management, as well as front line associates, in a wide variety of countries, I’ve had to learn the hard way to adapt my communication style to the country and the situation. With or without an interpreter (face-to-face, simultaneous, conference, telephone, etc.), there are three things I’ve had to change when the audience or meeting participants are speaking in their second or third language. In order of priority, they are:

1. Speak Slowly to Go Fast: Slow down to about half the pace one typically speaks in the United States—which feels like one third the pace if I am doing it correctly. This is particularly challenging for me because I am a highly enthusiastic keynote speaker who gets fired up, particularly when telling stories, and while conceiving and explaining breakthrough business concepts. But the faster I speak, the less others understand. If I speak slowly, as a team we can move faster. Slowing down to emphasize a sentence or a few words is a standard keynote speaking technique; Zig Ziglar, Tony Robbins, and other rock star speakers are masters of this. Globally, however, we all need to become masters of speaking slowly, and slowing down even further for emphasis.

2. KISS My Vocabulary: Use simple words, substituting basic words for complex ones, and doing the same with business and industry jargon. Take for example one of the key marketing research methods to drive the discovery of innovation opportunities. Technically it is call “ethnographic” research. An ethnographic study is direct, first-hand observation of the daily behavior of the targeted market segment. (In fact, many cultural anthropologists consider ethnography the essence of their discipline.) Another technical term for it is “contextual inquiry.” However, when explaining it in other countries, I find it best to use the simpler moniker: “Day in the life” market research—observing customers (both B2C and B2B) using your and your competitors’ products in everyday life, looking for frustrations and delighting factors that could be opportunities for innovation. Naming and explaining such concepts in this manner will not only make you more likely to be understood in other countries, but CEOs in the USA will also comprehend what you are saying, creating a shared understanding amongst your clientele.

3. Think Globally, Metaphor Locally: Switch from metaphors appropriate for the United States, to ones fitting the country one is in. When employing sports metaphors, for example, instead of basketball and football (even though they are played in quite a few countries now), I use hockey in Canada, karate in Japan (baseball also works if you clarify you are speaking of the Giants and Tigers), rugby in the U.K., skiing in Austria, tennis in many countries, and soccer throughout most of the world. The same applies within the USA: surfing in California, ice fishing in Minnesota, or sport fishing in Florida. I am fortunate that the three workshops I deliver in which I work with the audience to simultaneously improve their sports and business/teamwork performance are on tennis, golf, and skiing—relatively universal sports throughout the world, although skiing is not a big seller in The Middle East, except perhaps in the indoor ski area in Dubai.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

What makes communicating globally challenging, particularly for Americans, is in many countries your local audience or business partner may not even tell you they don’t understand you. Here are just a few of the reasons:

  • They don’t want to appear unintelligent.
  • They think someone else understands (but no one does).
  • They are shy and embarrassed to interrupt you.
  • They don’t want to offend you.
  • They don’t want to interrupt you.
  • They won’t because of deep cultural norms.

It’s in Their DNA

The last reason on the list is prevalent in many cultures, and particularly so in Japan where I do a lot of speaking and training. I once spoke for two days in a workshop without anyone telling me I was intermittently flying too fast, until I saw the workshop evaluations, summarized as: “great content and interaction, but speaks too fast.” Lesson learned. This could happen because it is embedded in Japanese culture, dating back thousands of years to their multi-level caste system. One never looked a higher caste member in the eye, or even spoke to them without being spoken to, or there could be serious repercussions; the same norms applied between children and parents, and between a student and their sensei (teacher). And, from 646 to 1867, when samurai “served” nobility to protect them, it was legal for a samurai to kill a commoner who showed him “disrespect;” rumor had it if you looked one in the eye, instantly your eyes could be looking up from your head lying upon the ground. If I were Japanese, it would make me hesitant as well to interrupt a speaker, trainer, or business partner. The cultural norm continues today, almost as if it were in their DNA.

A Successful Solution

So what does one do about this if they have the tendency to get passionate and speak enthusiastically in meetings, workshops, or videoconferences, or if they miss-metaphor in a country, or err by being erudite? I’ve invented and successfully use a nearly foolproof and fun solution that can solve the problematic “fast, slow, or “who-knows” communication question, and I’ll delve into it in part two.

Stay tuned to hear how in a few days,

Jim Bandrowski

Photo credit: soanesmark

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