Communication is crucial to doing business. According to Hart Research Associates, 93% of employers prioritize effective communication skills over a type of college degree when hiring. However, in an age of widespread globalization, effective communication offers its own unique communication challenges. Effective business communicators need to understand cultural differences, digital communication methods and effective verbal and nonverbal communication strategies to maintain diverse teams.
Digital Communication Strategies
One might think the widespread availability of digital tools for cross-cultural communication should be fairly easy to manage. However, confidentiality issues, unfamiliarity with digital communication tools and poorly planned communication strategies can affect the efficacy of electronic communication. Margery Mayer from the Project Planning Institute reflects on this phenomenon: “With so many forms of connectivity available, we still are not communicating well. There is audio, video, asynchronous email, synchronous instant chats — and yet there is still a communications gap.”
When utilizing electronic communication tools, it is important to have a clear plan that incorporates technologies to strategically meet your team’s needs. Even the best tools and technologies are ineffective at improving communication if they are not selected and utilized with clear purposes in mind. Mayer lays out sample communication plans that include such strategies as establishing clear roles and responsibilities for team members, identifying communication channels for various needs and developing plans for meetings that keep things on track.
The Importance of Cultural Intelligence
Today’s employees get to work with a wide variety of people with diverse cultural backgrounds. While this is an exciting aspect of working with global partners, it can also lead to miscommunication when workers are not aware of their teammates’ local customs and preferred communication styles. Even the most well-organized communication plans can fail when they do not take cultural norms and values into consideration.
For example, anthropologist Edward Hall points out that cultures tend to communicate in one of two fundamentally different styles. High-context cultures consider words as only a small part of communication and emphasize subtlety, implication and nonverbal communication. On the other hand, low-context cultures tend to consider words at face value with little consideration for the context of those words.
Hall also points out differences in cultures’ relationships to time and space. For example, while Western cultures typically value time management and careful planning, some cultures value human interaction over time management. Thus, when a U.S.-born team member sets up meeting times with cultures that place more value on human interaction than time management, they might set up flexible time slots and allow time for the conversation to flow without impeding other activities.
Nonverbal and Verbal Communication Considerations
Nonverbal communication is a major concern in cross-cultural communication. Cultural norms can greatly impact how nonverbal cues are translated. Personal space, eye contact, facial expressions and hand gestures all play key roles in communicating; however, meaning varies across cultures. For example, some gestures, such as pointing with one’s index finger, might be considered appropriate in America but offensive in other cultures.
The importance of nonverbal communication is also important to consider when setting up digital communication strategies. Virtual face-to-face meetings can be crucial to making big decisions and clearly communicating important ideas. As Caesar’s Entertainment’s Michael Massari shared with Forbes, “No matter what industry you work in, we are all in the people business. Regardless of how tech-savvy you may be, face-to-face meetings are still the most effective way to capture the attention of participants, engage them in the conversation and drive productive collaboration.”
However, nonverbal communication does not erase the need for clear verbal communication. In a global workspace, people are likely to speak a multitude of languages. Therefore, it’s important to establish a universal vocabulary that avoids technical jargon, acronyms and slang terms. Emergenetics International suggests establishing common points of reference early on to create a shared understanding among team members.
The global workplace offers unique communication challenges, and with them, unique opportunities for learning more about the world around you. Thinking strategically about how you communicate and educating yourself on best practices can ensure your team is ready to tackle anything together.