I too often forget the difficulty communicating in a foreign language. My career provides the opportunity to work with different people from around the world. I have an advantage. Growing up in the United States, English is the language I know best and it's the worldwide business language. I dabble in other languages, but other than a handful of phrases that allow me to introduce myself, I'm mute.
My boss observed recently that when I'm on the phone with an overseas supplier, I speak differently - I use a different "voice". He likened it to the way he thinks I speak with my children. My initial response was filled with concern. Did I give the impression that I was talking down to them or speaking to them as if they wouldn't understand "big words"? What are my team's perceptions of the way I treat our supplier and is this the behavior I want them to mimic? My relationship with the supplier is outstanding . We effectively work through problems, negotiate and even spend time on 'water cooler' talk, even with our
distance. My intentions are certainly not to belittle my overseas colleagues.
This is how all teleconferences should be held to ensure participants have a clear, concise understanding of the meeting's topics, related discussion and actions moving forward. These practices reduce frustration and keep the teams on the same page, even if they disagree. Great
communication is important - not necessarily more communication.
I also realized how a loss in perspective jaded some of my native English speaking teammates. A pause in discussions for each group to quickly speak in their tongue developed an inherent mistrust of the bilingual teammates.
Frustration and a false, discriminatory perception that those stumbling and "changing answers" are actually lying, and therefore always liars. The time to stop and observe actions to form these opinions had nearly disappeared. This belief is common throughout some of my team. The understanding and gratitude for our supplier working to learn our tongue was lost. That misjudgment is leading to an erosion to the relationship between the teams.
It is time for a change and an attitude readjustment. Perhaps now I do sound like I'm speaking to my children - to clarify discussions for my supplier and to reprimand my team.
How often is too often to forget the difficulties of communicating in a different language? Really, ever.