Work Harder at Communicating When Managing Foreign Language Teams
The primary key to success when managing foreign language teams may be the focus on communication. Since the other team members may not speak your language fluently, you must adjust. The expression “let’s hit one out of the ballpark” may be very clear to an American team, but may not be clear to a team member from Singapore. Even within the same language there can be confusion; many Americans don’t really understand what a “sticky wicket” is. The language you use, when speaking and writing, must be clear or it must be explained until it is made clear if you want everyone on the team working together in the most efficient manner to reach the teams’ goal.
Here are a few specific things you can do to enhance your communications when managing foreign language teams.
- Make your language a little more formal. Speak and write as if you were talking with a person you respect, perhaps your grandparent, rather than one of your buddies. This will cause you to use better grammar, more complete sentences, and fewer slang expressions. This will make it easier for others to understand you.
- Stay away from slang, idioms, and jargon. A classic example is the brilliant foreign surgeon who was about to start his first operation. He told his colleague "I have cold feet." He did not mean he was afraid to do the operation, he meant that the draft coming under the door was making his feet cold. Slang that you have grown up with may be perfectly clear to you, but most people learn a foreign language in school, not by living in that country, so they are not often exposed to this level of informal communication.
- Don’t use "don't". In my written communication with my foreign language teams, I always spell out contractions. While I am pretty sure most of them understand simple contractions like don’t and can’t, I am not sure which ones they do know and which ones they do not know. In a written document, they can not ask me for clarification so I try to be very clear in how I write. People from some cultures may even find it difficult asking you for clarification of what you just said, so try to watch your use of contractions there as well.
- Ask for feedback. When managing foreign language teams, you may encounter some people who will agree with you, nod their head, even say “yes, I understand” when you ask if the understand. That does not mean they actually understood. They may be embarrassed or otherwise reluctant to say no to you. The only way to be sure your message got through is to ask for them to repeat back to you, in their own words, what you asked them to do. Then you can correct the message if needed.
- Be patient. It will take longer to do it this way, but it’s worth it. Recognize the effort the members of you foreign language teams are making to speak with you in your language. If you were as good in their language as they are in your, it wouldn’t be a “foreign” language.
Managing foreign language teams is not as difficult as it might seem. Just remember that different is not wrong, respect for your team members is essential, and you must open yourself up to new ideas. Don’t lose your focus on the goal. And most importantly work harder at communicating at all levels.