Global Communication

I was in Madrid last week and from there I flew to Tokyo where I’m right now for work. The workshop has forty people from approximately 12 different countries. My stay in Madrid and Japan inspired me to write this blog.

Communication studies have shown that when we communicate the majority of the message is conveyed non-verbally thus through body language and vocal intonation. It still fascinates me to see good English speakers, especially native ones, speaking in front of a group clueless of the fact that the majority of the people has NO CLUE what they are saying since they are talking way to fast, are using slang or acronyms. Even in Japan that has the reputation that their people’s facial expressions are stoic, you can see it in the eyes of the participants that they do not understand.

If you have ever learned another language, you know how frustrating and tiring it is to try to understand what is said. You are translating what you hear, after which you try comprehend the meaning.  Then if you have a question, you have to translate the question. By the time you have formulated the question the speaker is on the next or even two topics further. At which time you feel embarrassed to ask your question.

Even worse is if you come across a word that you do not know. Your brain simply stops, wondering what that word might mean without hearing anything else that is said. I know this from experience since my native language is Dutch and although I am fluent in English there are some words that I do not know and when I hear them my brain still stops processing any other information to obsess over that one word. Outside English, I speak fluent German, have studied Spanish and am now studying French. Every time I pick up a new language I get to experience the frustration and exhaustion of trying to understand all over again.

I have seen workshop participants break down in tears (men included) since this process is so exhausting for them and more importantly because their repeated requests (which takes A LOT OF courage) to the speaker to slow down and use global English are to death man’s ears.

We live in a global world. You do not even have to travel but simply look around you at work, in the bus or in the grocery shop. Communication is difficult enough (think about all the miscommunication between generations or genders); it is our responsibility to make sure we are understood. And I am sorry to say but that takes work and more important AWARENESS of our own actions.

To steal a sentence of one of my best friends, I have this crazy dream that in the near future (maybe 2012) we will all be using global communication. It is really not that hard. Simplified it comes down to the following basic rules:

  • Speak slowly and clearly
  • Ask when you do not understand
  • Keep it simple (words, grammar, sentence structure)
  • Do not use slang or acronyms
  • Verify you are understood
  • Pause to enable people to catch up in their minds
  • Use graphics, pictures, and graphs to support your message – a picture is a thousands words
  • Have patience!!

Most importantly: be aware of your surroundings and your impact on it. Even on the phone you can hear if you are not understood. And in the case you have no emotional intelligence at all, assume the worse and be extra due diligent in the above basic rules. Trust me, you will be told to speed up if you are going to slow.

I hope you share my crazy dream and will participate in it. It would be such a great world if we all use global communication.

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1 thought on “Global Communication”

  1. Oh, Nathalie, thank you for writing on such an important topic! It’s truly impossible to lead a project to success if the team members do not understand one another. Although native English speakers tend to think that others must change to learn English, I realize that perhaps it’s native English speakers who must change the most. Especially as an American, I’m so obsessed with speed, efficiency and results, that I can forget to assure that my colleagues understand and support what we are doing. To be quite honest, this problem can also occur when everyone in the team is a native English speaker.

    The purpose of communication is mutual understanding. If we want to understand, and be understood, we must be willing to adjust to “impedance match” our communication partner. Ego must be cast aside. Feelings of silliness from extreme body language must be ignored. The goal of understanding must be the #1 priority.

    Here’s to your crazy dream coming true! – Scrappy Kimberly Wiefling

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