10 Tips on Getting your Message Across Clearly When Working Internationally

Communication across cultures and languages can be something of a minefield. For those working abroad or with people from different cultures, especially within the world of export, it is all too easy to get lost in translation.

Rather than raising your voice when you think you aren’t being understood, try some of these 10 tips:

1. Keep an open mind and check if in doubt
When communicating with people from different cultures, try not to be guided by stereotypes or bias. Instead keep an open mind. If you are unsure about something, anything, just check and ask the person. This cuts through doubt and leaves everyone knowing where they stand.

2. Use eye contact, non verbal communication and body language
Before humans used language for communication, we communicated using intuition, body language and non verbal communication. If you don’t speak someone’s language, you can still communicate briefly through non verbal communication, eye contact and body language. Smiling politely or making brief eye contact can help make the point that you are approachable and friendly.

3. Speak slowly and calmly
By speaking slowly and calmly you have the best chance of getting your point across to people who are not accustomed to your accent or language. Remember that although many people speak English, they may struggle if you speak at 100mph or have a strong regional accent. Don’t expect people to understand you by raising your voice. Rephrase sentences, avoid complicated words and just keep it simple.

4. Don’t interrupt people
When communicating with someone from a different culture, it is tempting to interrupt or try to finish the other person’s sentences. You might see this as helpful, but you should always be patient and do your best to let the person attempting communication to express themselves, their way.

5. Get information from locals
Your colleagues and locals are great sources of information. If you struggle to get your point across with a particular person or country, ask people around you might understand them a bit better. They can give you tips on why people may be reacting to you in certain ways and how best for you to respond. Sometimes that local insight is what is needed to break a deadlock.

6. Speaking to be understood: use ‘International English’
Using ‘International English’ involves speaking ‘to be understood’. It is a good idea to speak like this when communicating with people of different cultures because people who don’t have good English can get confused by complex sentences, grammar and language. Using ‘International English’ involves saying things as simply and precisely as possible; including simple, helpful explanations if necessary and using sentences with a simple structure.

7. Avoid using gestures
Gestures can be misinterpreted so it is best to avoid them when communicating in an international setting. Things like the thumbs up, OK sign and lots of other hand signals are loaded with different meanings across the world. If you use your hands and face a lot to express yourself, try to reign it in a bit to avoid conveying the wrong message.

8. Don’t invade personal space
Being respectful of personal space is more important is some cultures so you should always ensure that you are aware of this and respectful of personal boundaries by not standing too close or touching people unexpectedly. Standing too close to someone can be a real conversation killer resulting in people wanting to escape from you rather than have a long conversation. Conversely, if you don’t like your space invaded and are working in a touchy-feely country, try not to reel back!

9. Dress comfortably
Chatting to people from different cultures can be much more difficult than chatting to more familiar people. It usually takes longer and it requires lots of patience. Prepare yourself for this by dressing comfortably, because chances are if you in pain because those killer heels are squeezing the life out of your little toe, this will put you in a bad mood, or leave you dying to get away. It is hard to build good business relationships with people when you are uncomfortable, so do yourself a favour and give your preferred outfit a test run.

10. Be respectful
Being respectful to others will build trust. When dealing with people from a different culture, don’t take shortcuts, or make assumptions about what is ok with others as you could cause annoyance or offence without meaning to. Instead ask people what they prefer or what they need. Even if you get it wrong, people will appreciate that you have taken the trouble to ask.

Next time you find yourself getting frustrated when trying to explain seemingly simple things, try to remember some of these tips and use them. See if it makes a difference…


Sectors: Education & Training
Topics: Getting Started
Export Action Plan