Business Communications skills

By: Erin Meyer, author of The Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business (Public Affairs Books, 2014)

In today’s globalized economy, it’s not unusual for an American to give a presentation in China, an Italian to negotiate a deal in Nigeria, or for a German to manage a team of Brazilians. And today’s highly-connected world provides a myriad of ways to conduct global business: by phone, e-mail, video conference, or in person.

Yet despite these options, it’s not uncommon for cultural signals to be misinterpreted and confused. The result can lead to misunderstandings - or worse - lost business opportunities.

The more the world globalizes, the more important our ability to communicate globally becomes. One of the biggest challenges arises when you are managing a multi-cultural team, with people from several cultures other than your own who need to work together effectively.

Know When to Be Quiet
In the American school system, there is often a participation bonus: the participants who speak up the most receive credit for that, and it boosts their grade. In the workplace, it is not just appropriate but desirable and expected that employees make their voices heard.

On the other hand, in many Asian cultures, the importance of waiting carefully for your counterparts to finish their sentences before you speak demonstrates both valued listening skills and communication skills. This is true from Korea to Thailand.

Witness the following situation:

The first global team Eric managed was made up of 5 Americans and 2 Koreans. He noticed quickly that during these meetings the Koreans hardly spoke while the Americans were all working hard to make their voices heard.

After one meeting he overheard an American teammate remarking, “They’re just so shy! They certainly don’t have much to contribute!”

Later he pulled one of the Korean team-members aside and asked how she felt things were going. She responded that she found it difficult to participate because the Americans were constantly interrupting and talking on top of one another. “I would like to share my points but I can’t find a moment to get my voice in edgewise”.

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