Communicating Across Continents

Have you watched the movie Rush Hour starring Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker?  It’s a buddy cop flick of East meets West.  Even though both of their characters spoke English, it was clear there was a language barrier between the two.  When I was in Hong Kong for business, I used the word sneaker while conversing with a coworker and he had no idea what I was talking about.   When I said, “you know, shoes for running.”  He then said, “Oh, we call them runners!”


Today I held a conference call with a few people from  different countries.   It’s been a while since I  held an international conference call, and this time, the individuals were spread out as far as they could be.  Usually, I speak with people from a specific geographic region, but  today I had a conference call with individuals from Canada,  Turkey, and Taiwan.  Later in the day I had a phone call with someone from New Zealand.  As you can tell, there were  time zone challenges and the proficiency of English varied from basic to advanced.  I think the language barrier of communicating someone from another country is the most difficult when it comes to international business.

Below are the tips that I keep in mind when I have meetings with colleagues located in other parts of the world.

  • Use an agenda to outline your meeting.
  • English is not the first language for most countries, don’t assume everyone is proficient.
  • Be patient when others speak and learn to be a listener.  Just because you’re more proficient in a certain language doesn’t mean you should talk the most.  Don’t do the Rush Hour movie thing and say, “Do you know the words that are coming out of my mouth?!”
  • If you speak fast, slow down your pace, be concise and pronounce the words clearly.
  • Avoid the use of slang, street talk, and any other type of local speak you are accustomed to.
  • Don’t try to force jokes, because you may come off as offensive.  If you’re naturally funny, it will show.
  • Be sensitive to everyone’s timezones when scheduling calls.  Don’t make them stay up late or get out of bed in the middle of the night to get on your call, you should be adjusting your schedule to accommodate theirs if you’re setting up the meeting.
  • Distribute meeting minutes soon afterwards.

Good communicating out there!

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