09 May 2008

Ten tips for global communicators

The difference between local and global markets is like the difference between the fishbowl and the ocean. To understand and engage successfully requires a shift in perspective. Here are a few tips to help you get the most from your global communications efforts:

1. Get outside your fishbowl.
To go global you’ve got to get out from behind your desk. Your culture surrounds you like the air you breathe, and you can’t understand it until you get outside it. Spend some time – an extended period, if possible – completely immersed in another culture. When you return, you’ll be surprised how many things you notice that were previously invisible.

2. Be authentic.
Being global doesn’t mean losing your identity. If you’re a global company that was started in Germany and is headquartered in Germany, it’s perfectly ok to be German. It’s a multicultural world and you are a part of it too. The key is to be respectful of other cultures while being true to your own unique identity.

3. Remember that you are a guest.
When you are visiting another country, or when you open an office there, you are a guest. The same rules apply that would apply if you were visiting a friend’s house. Be polite, respectful, and thoughtful in your communications.

4. Think visually.
There’s a reason why TV is booming while newspapers are going out of business. People understand pictures faster and more easily than words. With pictures you can communicate complex ideas instantly, and virtually nothing is lost in translation. And words need to be translated, while pictures are a universal form of communication.

5. Ask for feedback.
Share your ideas with global teams early, when they are in the napkin-sketch stage, and ask for feedback. When you ask people to participate in defining the message, you build trust. If you build your message globally, then deployment becomes much easier.

6. Engage.
To communicate you need to engage with people, and when you engage, you will make mistakes. If you never make a cultural error, you’re probably not communicating at all. Try to get outside your comfort zone. There is such a thing as being too safe. People will forgive your mistakes if they believe you are well-intentioned.

7. Respect is a two-way street.
If you work for a global company, your company’s culture may be as strong and important as the global cultures you interact with. There will be times when your company culture is directly at odds with the local culture. When those times arise, you need to have a clear policy on what is negotiable and what is not: Is fluency in English an absolute requirement? You may not want to hire interpreters for every conference call.

8. Localize strategically.
Localization is a slippery slope. You can localize to the regional level, to the country level, and beyond – there are nine officially recognized languages in South Africa alone. Balance the expense of localization against the benefits you expect to gain.

9. Listen between the lines.
Many cultures have subtle or indirect ways of dealing with conflict and communicating sensitive information. Watch people’s faces and body language for cues. If you sense something may be amiss, ask politely if you are missing anything, or take an associate aside for a quick chat. In conference calls it’s much more difficult: silence can be an indication of many things, including disinterest, confusion, displeasure, and even agreement.

10. Socialize.
In many cultures, communication outside of the office is as important as what happens inside. Take invitations seriously. Many of your most important lessons and ideas will come from informal conversations, where people feel comfortable sharing their thoughts.

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Anonymous said...

... well done, dave. as always. :-)

evalica said...

funny. I feel like a kid again :P

Anonymous said...

Thinking visually is not always effective. Many visually impaired persons engage in online communications and because people differ psychologically as well as culturally, images can also have different meaning and/or may not convey an idea as intricately as it need be communicated.

Unknown said...

Hi blackhat,

Good point, and I agree that visual thinking is not always effective.

Visual language, like any language, is always subject to interpretation, and the meaning of a picture can be highly dependent on culture and context.

But I do believe that visual thinking is a very helpful element in any communication system, and that, in combination with other forms of communication, can increase clarity and understanding.

Anonymous said...

I like your blog.
I'm out of my fish bowl !

I live in Austria, Vienna and now I'm in your worldwide blog !!!

I hope my English is not too bad.

Sylvia, europaen fish named wanda

Unknown said...

Welcome Sylvia!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post, as usual.

Anonymous said...

It's awesome to think that while the world is becoming smaller, communication challenges seem to continue, and in spite of the channel choices, we all need to communicate.
Thanks for opening the eyes once again, oh, it's great to see you mention South Africa where we have so much depth in terms of cultural context to communicate from.
Good job!

Unknown said...

Thank you for your comment William!