How does your team manage bilingual and bicultural communication issues in the workplace?
I am curious about the variety of issues that occur in workplaces when communication is between businesses from various countries with differing linguistic and cultural backgrounds. Can you think of some examples from your unique situation?
Communication has to be in a common language, say english as an example. So at least some people should know that as well as the language of the other team members. More important part is to understand the cultural differences. You have many professional trainers for cultural orientation and investment in that is very valuable. Both teams across geographies must go through cultural training of the other side.
1- Stick to British English
2- Don't use idioms and metaphors
"put our ducks in a row" ..."solution that we can hang our hat on it" ..."project is at stake" ...and so on. These will only cause confusion in international discussions.
3- Spend some time to understand those cultures that you're dealing with. In some cultures opposite gender handshake is insulting, hand gestures could be perceived as a threat, and hugging or touching shoulders is seriously rude ...and so on. Learn those differences and respect them.
4- Understand that others who speak English as a second language might translate their own idioms to English.
5- Also, understand that what we may perceive as rude or backwards, others may perceive it as polite and advanced. It all comes down to being humble when dealing with other cultures.
More of thinking about differences is focusing on similarities, on how those businesses can work on win-win relationships while considering their uniqueness, strengths and even weaknesses. There is a critical point those businesses need to bring into conversations: their locations, languages and cultural backgrounds well handled are 'assets' that all those business need to take into account for their success (nationally and internationally). Working toward improving their business presences and overall organization performances hand in hand is an amazing factor we see successful businesses in this globalized business world do.
You got wonderful responses right here :)
A professional translation company can be a valuable resource when communicating with subsidiaries and customers abroad or with non-English speaking employees at home. They can look at your situation and discuss your requirements to put a plan for seamless communication place that is customized to your needs
I haven't had problems with language issues, but my husband has. His company has offices and clients around the world. When there's a language issue, he reminds the speakers that English is the agreed-to language, and he might have to do that a couple times.
As for cultural issues, I have dealt with that. A client had a worker whose first language was Russian. While discussing how a Mac connects to a network, as opposed to a PC, he said, "I would like to take you by the hand and show you how it is done. You know nothing." I was appalled, and told him he was to never speak to me in that way again. Then I went to the owner who said, "he's not from around here. I'll talk to him." Everything was good after that.
My experience stems from working with teams from up to 5 European countries and 16 African countries. I have found that recruitment solves a lot of these problems for you. Your senior people will usually have more international exposure or experience and they are usually the ones who talking across borders and can help you bridge cultural differences. Also, the more skilled staff you need to hire, the more likely they will have international exposure, if only through English entertainment media.
Without underselling national culutural differences, cultural issues are often more to do with general coroprate culture than national ones. You will spend a lot of your time facing issues like managing over distance, head office vs branch, big city versus small towns (small countries?) and don't forget time zone differences.
I have a chart that I distribute. It's multi cultural, multi-faith, and all about business the "right way". You can view it here:
If you click and download it - you'll find it's printable / readable.
It is very important in any international company is to understand the customer’s culture, and that should be the base of the way that communication is built on, I have worked with many international companies in that last 18 years. Example, in some cultures the engineer (A) does not complain if he stayed longer hours to close the Job or to close a service issue, Engineer (B) from different Culture does not accept to work over 8 hours and he see if needs to do so he must get paid and so on. It happened that engineer A asked or called engineer B for help, engineer B turned him down by saying that I am working now, so engineer A starts talking to his management why should I work if engineer B does not work and we both work for the same company.
Even though that some international companies who have been in the international market for long time has made an excellent progress in unifying the work culture, still you can see the effect of the employees culture background, educations and work ethics.
In one of the Project for a telecom Provider in the ME I was in the same floor with many nationalities, from all continents, between their team members the communication is the same but with other teams from different suppliers the communication was one is to deliver as per the customer’s requirement.
I want to add here that the manager of team members must be experienced with diffident cultures and backgrounds where he can utilize it to minimize the culture differences and deliver the Jobs.
Been there and done that...To long to explain the whole journey we did, but very short; When everything boils down it end up in that we are humans with basic needs and desires. Fulfill them via Transformational leadership and you get moving...
In the federal government in Canada, it's normal business to promote bilingualism, multiculturalism and diversity at all level of the organization. Of course, some departments and managers are better at it than others.
For example. I used to have meetings where anyone can speak in either English or French. I also encouraged and organised workshops and conferences on multiculturalism and on diversity in leadership.