Let’s get straight down to business! Wait, not so fast. Let’s think carefully about what to say, and then enunciate it in a clear, logical and concise manner. Just as importantly, let’s listen attentively to what the person at the other side of the table, or on the other side of the line far away overseas, has to say.
Poor communication is said to cost organisations billions of dollars every year in misunderstandings and missed contracts. A new book, Communication for International Business (HarperCollins) is thus a welcome enjoinder to stop and take stock of how we interact with other business people and conduct professional relationships. This especially applies to native English speakers dealing with people for whom English is a second language, no matter how linguistically proficient the latter may be.
English is a lingua franca, in transport and many other sectors, but it is quite a battered one. It is surprising how many of those born in the UK, US, Canada and other majority English speaking countries swerve off message. Many of us speak and write in a complex, confused fashion, slinging in specialist abbreviations and acronyms which baffle our counterparties. The habit of many English people of speaking with their mouths 99% shut – don’t read my lips – is another irritant. The mumbling persists, from highly educated executives of global businesses, from High Court judges, from lawyers, from technology specialists and others.
The nub of this book is in its sub-title: “the secrets of excellent interpersonal skills.” Mangling spoken and written English throws up a barrier that can disrupt international teams and commercial relationships.
We cannot be urged enough to become more mindful of the cultural differences between counterparties, as does this book, while stopping short of exploring in detail the nuances of showing respect for people of various origins, something for which we can turn to other guidebooks and consultants. Communication for International Business succeeds in honouring its own advice, in the succinct way in which it communicates to the reader better ways to manage a whole range of relationships.
Lead author Bob Dignen plunges immediately into his themes, with some solid advice and tips on speaking… and listening. We have only one mouth, but two ears, he reminds us. Mr Dignen has clearly devoted as much time to listening as to propounding – he is a director at communications consultancy York Associates, with a client list including Nestlé, Zurich Financial Services, Ikea, Société Générale and Statoil. He worked on the book with Ian McMaster, editor-in-chief of the business English magazine for German professionals, Business Spotlight.
In its 224 pages, the handy paperback tackles all communication channels including email and video conferencing. Whether we are talking about face-to-face or virtual skills, the key messages include: slow down, and stay slowed down, simplify your sentences and grammar, and avoid the temptation to use idioms. Speak in an accent as close as you can reasonably get to Standard English. Above all, put yourself in the shoes of foreign colleagues with different backgrounds. That is a wonderful starting point ahead of networking, influencing others, managing conflict, building trust and other activities.
Communication for International Business, by Bob Dignen with Ian McMaster, is published by Collins at £8.99. ISBN 978-0-00-749958-8. It is also available as an e-book. www.harpercollins.co.uk