I myself have conducted more than 100 cross-cultural trainings for our company. An important module in these is the exchange of experiences between participants. Over the last 17 years, this has allowed me to learn a multitude of unbelievably good tips and strategies from my participants’ international work lives.
In today’s article, I’d like to introduce you to the very best proposed solutions from this massive collection – a sort of “best of” from the last 17 years; from my participants for my participants. Enjoy!
- Summary e-mails: You should always compile a short written summary of every international telephone call or online meeting and send it to every participant. Especially because not everyone speaks perfect English. This will give your discussion partners the opportunity to read back over things they didn’t understand or translate them on their own time. If several people have taken part in an online meeting, try to have the summary drawn up by a native speaker. Native speakers are often insufficiently challenged if the group’s English level is too low, and they’ll tend to look forward to the extra task. On top of that, native speakers tend to understand people whose English is only average much better. This significantly reduces the possibility of mistakes and misunderstandings.
- Summarize problems at the beginning: Shortly describe within one or two sentences at the beginning of an e-mail what you understand your counterpart’s problem/challenge to be. Do this in your own words. This way you’ll ensure that you haven’t misunderstood something. This method also has the very positive side effect that you’ll give your e-mail partner the feeling that you’re a good listener who actually understands them.
- Better to send short e-mails with attachments: In Germany, e-mails are subconsciously seen as equivalent to letters, so e-mails entail high obligation. They’re like a kind of electronic document, at least in the eyes of a lot of Germans. However, not every culture places such high importance on e-mails. Therefore, try not to send incredibly long e-mails, but rather short messages with attachments. Documents attached to messages tend to be considered highly important by nearly everyone, in contrast with e-mails.
- “What can I do better?” Everyone knows someone they’d like to give tips for improvement. The problem is that it’s almost always difficult to give unsolicited feedback. So one of my training participants simply turned the tables, so to speak. He asked a difficult colleague at various milestones throughout a project what he himself could do better. After the third time, the colleague became curious and asked him if there was something he could do better in turn. Apart from that, I find it really fascinating to get feedback from other people. If you don’t take the received feedback personally, you can grow from it and evolve. In my experience, a lack of negative criticism is rarely a good sign. There are often more than enough negative points, but no one dares to address them.
- Learn the six key phrases in the languages that are relevant to you [hello, zàijiàn, gracias, s’il vous plait, nein, si].
- Set common rules for your collaboration. How fixed are agreed-upon appointments and deadlines? How and how often do you want to give feedback? How many colleagues should be put in e-mails’ CC field and why? Can agreements that have been made still be changed? When should e-mails or calls be followed up on if no response is received? None of the answers to these questions is self-evident. Different work and communication standards apply depending on whom you’re dealing with. If you neglect to talk about the ways you want to work together, colleague X will most likely proceed differently from colleague Y. It would be no surprise if this more or less led to serious chaos. Efficient and frustration-free work is often only possible when you agree upon common standards.
Do you have your own ideas, tips or strategies that help you with your international work? I’d love to hear about them in the comments section under this article. Ideally, we can continue to build on this article’s wealth of knowledge together.