Do’s and Don’ts of Business Communication
With the world growing ever smaller as we connect with colleagues, customers, and clients from all over the world, whether face to face or online, the ability to communicate effectively, efficiently, and without miscommunication becomes more difficult. We need to be more away of differences in language and language levels, culture, ethnicity, sex and more that could result in miscommunication.
Today we are going to exam how language and culture can create miscommunications.
Communication is not a one-way street. We cannot just throw our words at a person and expect them to always interpret them in the way we intended. How the receiver interprets can be based on our language skills and culture.
Whether it is in person or online, if the person you are speaking with has a low level in the language you are using, is not used to speaking in business terms, has poor listening skills, or if they are nervous, they may not hear or understand, what you are saying. Whenever you are talking with a person, you need to listen to how they speak then you can adjust the way you speak to ensure the best response.
If they are not a native speaker, you may need to speak slower and as clearly as possible. Allow them plenty of time to think before they respond and be prepared to repeat, or to rephrase, what you are saying if they don’t understand what you are saying. Try not to use jargon, colloquialisms or high-level vocabulary if they are a low-level language learner. You can apply the same techniques for a low-level speaker in your native language or someone that is very nervous. Also, don’t judge the person by their language level, especially if a learner. Instead, encourage them to speak and to explain their idea using simple words.
What is in a name?
Your ‘normal’ will be different from others when it comes to cultural behaviour and language.
The differences can range from whether you call your colleague, client, customer or boss by their first name or whether you use a title plus surname. In many businesses, all staff, from the CEO to the most junior, are on a first-name basis, while others still insist on titles. Make sure you know the title the females use. Some may prefer Miss, Mrs, Dr, while others want to be addressed as Ms.
In many cultures, small talk, the little conversations we have about the weather or what we did at the weekend, are important icebreakers. They allow people to feel they know and trust other people and are relationship builders with new clients. However, in some cultures, especially in some European countries, many never use small talk and see it as inefficient and timewasting. They may prefer the formality of a tightly run meeting or conversation that keeps to the topic. While you learn to adjust to their culture, they also need to accommodate you, so yes, use small talk but keep it short. If small talk is a must in your company, teach those unfamiliar with small talk why and how we use it.
Jargon or colloquialisms.
It is normal to use jargon, colloquialism, and phrasal verbs, without even realising you are doing it when you are a native or even a high-level speaker of a language. We need, however, to be aware that those we are speaking with may not know the terms, so they are unable to understand what you are saying. We need to set our language level to the lowest level in the group so everyone can understand what is said. Being considerate of others is one of the most important things when it comes to avoiding miscommunications.
People who work in international settings quickly understand that time, punctuality, and work hours can mean different things in different cultures. In the more relaxed or hotter climates, like Spain, where I live, some South American countries, according to my learners who live there, and the Pacific Island, which I have visited several times, time is more fluid. People often never arrive on time for an appointment or meeting. In other cultures, everyone is expected to be ready to start on time, so it is usual to arrive at least ten minutes before the meeting start time.
This difference in perception of time can flow into when projects or other work needs to be completed. One Chinese learner told me, she always finishes a project two days before the due date, so she knows it is ready on time. Another learner stated that he felt that completion dates were flexible, and he frequently finished work after the due date.
In this situation, you put it in writing what the expectations are if you are in a position to do so or speak with a manager about doing it. If a client or customer is always late, you may have to learn to make allowances for them. If they are always late but always make sure you are on time. If they are late, make sure you have work you can do or a book on your phone that you can read. Relax and accept the differences.
Time zones and work habits can also cause communication problems. Errors in time zones understanding can cause people to miss meetings and other deadlines. Some people have problems working out time zones as well. In this situation, it is best to state that meeting times, deadlines, and similar, are all given in the head office time zone. All times in any communications need to mention the time zone. Then the colleague can work out the time zone using an easy time zone website. I like using this site to calculate time zone differences https://www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/meeting.html
Respect people’s personal time.
Whenever you send an email, be aware of the different times zones. The recipient of those emails may not receive the email during working hours, however, they may feel that you expect them to act on the email immediately, regardless of the time where they are. It is not fair nor reasonable to expect anyone to work outside their work hours, even if they are working from home. Constantly being expected to can result in resentment and overworked and overstressed workers. This can result in more burnout, reduced productivity and higher staff turnover. You may not expect your colleagues to act on them as soon as they get them so, you need to ensure the recipient know that. Do this by stating in the subject box, only to be actioned during work hours or to be taken care of in the next working day if you are sending it to people in the same or similar time zone. If you are sending out an agenda or information for a meeting say when the information is for. Also, make it clear in your company or team policies and procedures that you do not expect your team to routinely open and action email after normal work hours.
Good communication that avoids miscommunication is based on listening, consideration, understanding the different cultures and different language levels of others and setting out clear policies and procedures, in writing, in your team or company.