Communicating across Cultures

Posted by Paradigm Learning on February 26, 2015


Businesses are expanding globally, but important internal messages don’t always reach every employee. It’s time to change.

Would you stake your life on the accuracy and effectiveness of your company’s training methods?

Only a fool would make such a gamble. Sadly, the book of business history is filled with names of companies that have made foolish mistakes at some point. In some cases, their inability to communicate with a multinational workforce resulted in complete project failure. And in at least one case, well…let’s just say the results were rather grave:

One of the world’s most experienced engineering and project management firms retreated from venture in the South Pacific a few years ago. The local workforce never undertook what they were expected to—the building of an entire mining town complete with housing, power plants, air strips, roads, and hospitals within three years. What it boiled down to was a leadership team that couldn't align with locals who didn't believe in something as basic as a work shift.

As companies expand internationally, leaders face the unique challenge of interacting with people who are culturally, educationally, and often fundamentally different than they are. If your company is crossing borders, it’s probably time to ask yourself one big question: How will you communicate with and train these people who will be your employees? Memos? Workbooks? PowerPoint?

The right move is to look for training tools that combine universal concepts of communication. Beginning with the assumption that today’s training program will be created in English and then adapted for international audiences, here’s a checklist of things to consider during development:

 1.) Language. Writing should be brief, active, and should emphasize clarity over cleverness. The fewer the words translated, the fewer potential mistakes.
 2.) Imagery. Are the pictures and illustrations used in your training program sensitive to international audiences? Does your artwork take that into consideration? Or will you have to  commission more artwork—at an additional expense—if you launch your program in Dubai?

 3.) Storytelling. Audiences want a good story wherever you go. Training programs are much easier to retain important information presented within the framework of a story.
 4.) Interaction. How will your training program engage your audience? Will you seek active participation in the learning process, or do you want passivity? Research shows that activity  equals memory. Games and simulations are especially effective because they can be easily communicated across cultures.

Corporate training departments must introduce learning tools combining universal concepts of communication—with the result that all employees, regardless of culture, language, or country, possess a common understanding of the company’s strategic objectives.

Have any training successes to share that effectively communicated across cultures? Share and comment below.

Topics: Business Simulations, Experiential Learning, Leadership Development, Learning Development, Human Resources