In many vocations it’s crucial that communications be executed correctly, however it’s very easy to convey the wrong message to a foreign colleague. This creates a dilemma for employees and employers, and the need to educate and convey, that sensitivity to language is extremely important.
Failure to communicate. Over the years, I’ve worked for a number of companies and businesses who have suffered from communication issues, especially in relation to language and culture.
What a native English speaking worker might perceive to be a simple instruction and second nature to understand, can actually be quite problematic for foreign learners. Case in point, an engineer e-mailing instructions to an overseas colleague makes an innocent typo, “I believe that the gasket is “to tight”. The overseas project manager who is not a native English speaker interprets and understands this to mean “to tighten” the gasket, rather than the intended, check to make sure the gasket was not “too tight”.
A survey conducted by the U.S. Committee on Economic Development (CED) notes that nearly 80% of business leaders surveyed believe their overall business would increase notably if they had more internationally competent employees on staﬀ.
Cultural respect goes a long way in relationship building. Consider examples of some American companies that have failed entering the Chinese market:
► Home Depot
While the aforementioned failed to respond to the disconnect between Chinese and American cultural values, others have responded by making an increased effort to understand Chinese culture in order to break through:
Despite the barriers to entry to get into the Chinese market, these companies recognize the value of advancing their relationship as much as possible. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO and founder of Facebook, shocked many people last October when he spoke Chinese during an appearance at Beijing’s Tsinghua University.
Despite a strong interest in Chinese culture (his wife, Priscilla Chan, is an American of Chinese descent), his interest is more than just personal – it’s business. Five years after China blocked Facebook, the company retains significant business interests in the country, maintains a presence in Hong Kong – where 61 percent of the population uses Facebook – and was reportedly seeking to open a sales office in Beijing. “How can you connect the whole world if you leave out a billion people?” said Zuckerberg – and that is coming from someone whose business is literally about connecting people.
Consider these statements from the same CED report:
“For Richard Wagoner, the President and CEO of General Motors, learning Portuguese while on assignment in Brazil increased his eﬀectiveness in working with the Brazilian business community. Douglas Daft, the former chairman and CEO of the Coca-Cola Company, spent nearly three decades living in Asia while working for Coca-Cola. He believes the cultural knowledge he gained from his time in the region shaped his ability to lead the company, and considers understanding and valuing other cultures to be an essential skill for anyone working at Coca-Cola.”
So if you have to learn a new language for your job, or if you think that it will be beneficial to know multiple languages to advance your career, also consider the relationships that you will build. As a result you will be able to build closer bonds with prospective clients and colleagues. This may open opportunities that were not available beforehand