How NOT To Lose In Business


How NOT To Lose in Business
While Working in a Global Economy

As the economy and the way we work becomes more global, we find ourselves working, connecting, and communicating with people from more diverse backgrounds... Different languages, different cultures, different ways of thinking and going about business. The global language for business is English. That's just the fact. In order to stay competitive, some companies have even begun instating an English-only policy. While this has the potential to create a variety of fallouts, one significant factor is that non-natives need to be able to effectively communicate their ideas in English, and native speakers need to be careful about how they speak and behave- or the results can lead to misunderstandings, lost deals, deep frustration, and ultimately millions of dollars in lost revenue.

In this post, I'll provide some basic tips for both native and non-native English speakers, so that miscommunications and worse, major gaffes, are avoided while doing business in an international business world.

Issues for Non-Native English Speakers

Not only do you need to be fluent as a non-native English speaker, you also need to be able to efficiently process spoken English from a variety of speakers, some of whom tend to speak fast. You also need to be able to formulate sentences to express your ideas, sometimes on the spot, or risk losing your chance to have your voice heard and your point made. The vocabulary needed to express complex ideas may not be as accessible and it may take longer to phrase your ideas which can lead to frustration and anxiety. The hesitance you may feel and lack of mastery with regard to pronunciation or intonation can wreak havoc with your self confidence. Resentment can even creep in.

Here's what I suggest:

Tips For Non-native English Speakers

1Understand that you have an absolute right, even responsibility, to ask native speakers to speak a little more slowly, if that is an issue for you.

2. If you can affect group meeting format, do what you can so that the meeting is conducted as less of a free-or-all conversation but in more of a structured turn-taking format, so that everyone gets a fair chance at contributing. Also, this way, each person has more time to process the input of others and to formulate their own ideas they want to put out.

3. When a meeting does take the form of a more open conversation format, don't wait to speak up until you've figured out exactly how to express your message, with perfectly formulated sentences. Just start speaking. Trust that you'll find enough words and a way to get your point across. Don't worry if just the right vocabulary isn't accessible; it's ok to use more basic words. You can reflect on the meeting afterwards and make considerations for the next time. It's the way you get better at expressing yourself; native speakers need to do this, too. Also, use your facial expressions, intonation, and body language to support your message.

4. If you don't understand something, again, you need to speak up. This can be difficult for many cultures and personality types. Try hard to accept this idea and know that it is more than OK; it is essential, in order for communication to be clear, equitable, and so outcomes don't end up surprising or disappointing you--or your communication partners!

5. If you do a lot of business with native English speakers, as well as English speakers from various backgrounds, try to speak as often as possible with everyone who speaks English! Regardless of what you're talking about, you are figuring out ways to say things, becoming more comfortable speaking with different people, and increasing your confidence and comfort in expressing yourself in English.

6. When speaking over the phone, over-articulate and project your voice! Sound is degraded over the phone, so you need to be extra clear.

7. Listen to and watch English language programs. The more styles of speaking you're exposed to and pay attention to, from formal to casual, the more familiar you will become with wording, the intonation patterns, and the overall essence of the language.

8. Imitate speakers! Pay attention to how the sounds and patterns feel in your mouth, in your body, in your whole being. When you speak another language fluently, you really take on the personality of a different way of connecting to your thoughts and feelings. Become comfortable with it; be bold, experiment, play. It's fun to broaden your sense of identity and ways you can express yourself! And the more you embrace a way of speaking and become comfortable using it, the more enjoyable and successful your communication will be.

9. When speaking over the phone, OVER-articulate and project your voice forward (don't be looking down). To counter the tendency to drop or devoice final word sounds, LINK all of your sounds. "He did it on Monday, just in time..." Or perceive it this way: "He di di don Monday jus dintime." (Hedididonmundayjustintime).

Tips for Native Speakers

Native English speakers are the worst international communicators--and lose business because of it.

Here's what you should do:

1. Gauge the English fluency of the people involved, but don't assume that fluency guarantees shared understanding.

2. While individuals who speak English as a second or third language typically speak more purposefully and carefully, native speakers may talk too fast and use too many unfamiliar shortcuts. "We're gonna have to get the ball rolling if we wanna stay ahead of the curve." Keep your speech simple; speak at a moderate rate and in a clear manner. Avoid idioms, colloquialisms, and references specific to your own culture.

3. Try to keep your sentences short--one thought per sentence. Don't use unnecessarily complex syntax.

4. Use simpler, more basic language. Now's not the time to show off your sophistication through your fancy vocabulary.

5. Consciously pause frequently so that your less fluent listeners have a chance to process what you're saying.

6. Don't make a pig of yourself. Many non-native English speakers report that mixed meetings are typically dominated by native English speakers, regardless of content expertise. Here are some behaviors you can take on:

  • Don't dominate the conversation. Consciously make an effort to let other people speak before you do.
  • Take on the attitude that your job is to ensure that everyone in the group has the opportunity to speak and to advance forward.

7. Clarify your meaning and intention frequently. Ask if anyone needs elaboration and confirm that your message is being understood.

8. Avoid language that can be vague, for example, "as soon as possible" or "a lot of." That goes for any business communication, actually.

9. Rehearse what you are going to say, or what you may say, if you can. Put yourself in the position of the listener, and identify possible communication obstacles, including words used, intonation, and speed. (Again, you should be doing this, anyway!)

There are others, but that's a good start. And finally, just in general, as a rule of thumb, come with an attitude of openness, consideration, and good intent. That goes a long way in effective business.

Feel free to add or send me other tips that you feel are important while doing business with mixed speakers! We can all learn from each other.

Native English speakers, non-native English speakers, communication, business, meetings