How many times during the last months have you heard, "You are on mute!"? Often, for sure. Mustapha received another kind of reminder. His colleague, Tom, a hard-working IT engineer, sent an email stating: "You forgot to set your absence-message." Time and again, Tom's typical way to cope with stress is to check on others' misses. Add to that Tom's excellence, his broad English vocabulary, remote-working, and the cocktail is set for another "Tom's crisis." For Kristin, their manager, maintaining efficiency and team-cohesion will be challenging in the long run. Except for the lucky introverts who thrive in isolation (as seen in our previous article), remote-working demands some extra-efforts when working in a global team or when collaborating with international partners.
- How do you foster trust as a member of a global team?
- How do you ensure the best communication possible with international partners?
Remote-working in a global team and communication style
As a member of a global team, keep in mind that online communication conveys far fewer clues than in-person encounters: more occasional gestures, facial expressions, and other non-verbal cues.
Therefore, explicit and direct conversations will foster understanding across distances. Meanwhile, being straightforward and transparent can be challenging for the members of a high-context culture (see box below).
High-context and low-context cultures
Coined by E.T. Hall, high-context and low-context refer to the degree of importance of non-verbal communication, interpersonal relationship, the value of the context, implicit or explicit rules.
Typically the South Korean "nunchi" is a trait of a high-context culture that heavily relies on implicit communication. Whereas, the Northern Europeans communicate in a more typically low-context style.
If implicit, smooth intonation changes and silences are part of your communication style, be aware that your message can get lost. Do not assume that other people know what you mean. Here are some tips:
- Be more factual than you usually are.
- Force yourself to be a bit more direct. No, it does not necessarily result in being seen as rude!
- Check with your "low-context" colleagues or partners if they noticed your efforts. You might be surprised how much they appreciate your candid approach to remote communication.
During a crisis, the members of a low-context culture have to produce some efforts too. Here is your tip: show more warmth and empathy than usual, ask about family situations. No, this is not necessarily intrusive!
As all of us need to adjust to the new normal, seize the opportunity to talk about your different communication styles. Candor and mutual efforts will pay dividends in the long run.
Traps of language and stellar communication
Another divide reinforced by online communicative apps is the divide between native and non-native speakers.
Both groups should be aware of the challenges faced by the other, and both can lower the difficulties by:
- speaking more slowly than in conventional settings
- rephrasing more often than in conventional settings
- avoiding idiomatic language (e.g. "in the ballpark" means an estimate)
- being aware of vague words (e.g., "truc" in French) and phrasal verbs in English (e.g., to table a meeting has different definitions in the UK and the US)
- correctly using a variety of connectors: However, Despite, Furthermore, In addition,...
Native speakers should be extra aware of their pace and make sure people can follow along. This is more challenging in an online-meeting because of a lack of visual cues.
Non-native speakers also need to pay attention to pace and to speak as clearly as possible. It helps to rehearse the pronunciation of harsh words. Practice presentations, use visuals, and be open to Q&A.
As Tom's recurring outbursts hurt the team cohesion, Kristin, his manager, confronted him with the reactions of his colleagues. At first, Tom denied being arrogant. With humor, Kristin chose some examples of Tom's wording and tagged them with "What-does-that-mean?", "Arrogant", "Super-arrogant-I-stop-listening". A few hours later, Mustapha received a new message from Tom: "Hi Mus, I hoped that you had a great day off with your family. I was rude in my last message. We all make this kind of mistake one day or another. That means that I owe you a coffee next time we meet In Real Life. OK with you? Call me whenever it suits you."
To ensure that we are heard, understood, and trusted, we will have to master a whole new set of communication habits, which is even more challenging for those working across languages and cultures. Whether you are still adapting your routines or experienced in communicating with your intercultural team members..., let us know how you enter the new phase of the crisis. Let me guess; it is not just by clicking on the little icon on the bottom left corner or better known as "unmute," is it?