The globalisation of companies and social networks has meant that as well as big corporates, small and medium companies can take advantage of global services.

This means having the skills and strategies to enable effective global communications are an absolute necessity. With this in mind George Budd MBCS provides some easy to implement strategies that will support individuals and teams to become effective in a rapidly changing global environment.

Clear verbal communication

First and foremost, clear verbal communications are vital. The communication medium is not as important as ensuring the message is understood by the listeners.

It would appear that colleagues in Asia and South America often develop their English skills based on US television and films. The result is that those of us who have learnt English in the UK are at an immediate disadvantage. However, there are two main strategies that can help enhance communication:

The first is the simplest, and that is to speak as slowly as possible and ask the listener to confirm understanding of key points. The second is to seek specialist training to improve verbal communications with those from different backgrounds.

Time zones

We are now speaking clearly and everyone in the world can understand our verbal message. So we set up a regular global team meeting at 1pm GMT so that the US team members are available. But for our team members in Hong Kong the meeting is at 9pm HKT. With the best will in the world we cannot expect our colleagues in Hong Kong to be at peak performance at 9pm HKT after having been on the go since probably around 7am HKT.

So how can we avoid this?

The main strategy is to consider carefully the necessity of such global meetings and keep them to a minimum. For every meeting be mindful of the participants’ location and make an effort to ensure it is at a reasonable and convenient time.
Another useful strategy is to start work early in the UK on a weekly basis and use this time to have meetings with Asia who will be at their best and also appreciate the effort you have taken.

Email overuse and instant messaging

Email is a useful communication medium and has been a trail blazer. However, it seems to have now become considered as actual work. There appears to be an implicit assumption that individuals have to be seen to respond to mails quickly.

Team members are aware they have no control over who views the mail so it has to be worded very carefully, and this often results in hours spent writing one email. The cycle continues; everyone that receives that mail thinks they have to be seen to be replying and so it goes on and on.

An additional factor is that a large percentage of the time, the message in the mail isn’t sufficient and leads to a mail chain wasting time getting anything understood. All this time spent checking the mail system could be much better utilised. In fact there is also no guarantee that the message is understood or agreed with at all.

Therefore always consider when to use email and when not to and carefully think about whether you really need to ‘cc’ at all. I have found that rather than firing off a mail, a quick video call or real-time message is far more effective and usually the subject matter can be agreed on the spot.

So adopt the strategy and use instant messaging for getting a quick response to your enquiry or to ensure someone has received the message. Most instant messaging systems enable you to see if the recipient is online.

Video conferencing

I have found the most effective medium for carrying out complex global communications is video conferencing. Traditional teams that are based in a single location have the advantage of developing good interpersonal communication. This helps understanding amongst the individuals, which supports the team development.

If we are speaking to someone in the traditional office setting, we are able to read nonverbal cues and see how the message is being received. However, in global teams, using only telephone conferences, the majority of this is lost. Quite often on global voice conference calls there are the proverbial tumble weed moments where you don’t know if anyone has heard your message or even if they are still there.

Using video conferencing for global meetings means that you can see who is on the meeting and whether they are being attentive or distracted. It is also possible to see the body language of participants in response to your message.

That said, it is important to highlight that video conferencing can be a double-edged sword. As well as being able to see the participants they can also see you! So if dealing with a challenging team member, everyone can observe your responses as well. A critical point here is that video conferencing needs to be utilised in the same way as if it was a direct face-to-face meeting. Remember that not only body language, but your attire and surroundings are also visible.

A little preparation and prior planning will stand you in good stead on a video conference. Ensure you are dressed appropriately to support your professional image. Check the image and focus of your camera prior to the meeting and make sure your head and shoulders are clearly visible. It is really distracting talking to the top of somebody’s head. Check that the background is appropriate and not distracting.

Being on a video conference is not unlike being a news presenter. To improve your performance on video watch how news presenters operate and communicate and how they look at the camera the majority of the time so it looks like they are engaged at a personal level. It is difficult to gauge everybody’s responses but looking at the camera rather than the screen for key messages is a good start.

At all times present an attentive demeanour and emphasise that you are listening and attending. Remember to encourage and agree the dialogue by the use of minimal encourages, i.e. nodding, OK etc. It is difficult on a video conference to keep interrupting with appreciative statements, which increases the importance and effectiveness of positive body language. There are a number of books available on TV presentation skills that can provide further hints and guidance.

Further to the earlier comments about practising verbal communication with global team members, having regular one-to-one video conferences with key team members is a great strategy. Furthermore, it is useful to use these slots as a completely or partially informal chat. This can help you get to know your team and colleagues better.

To build rapport, it is useful to put an item of interest in the background to prompt discussion and initial engagement. It is impossible to get to know everyone personally but taking the effort for key personnel will deliver much benefit. Encouraging others to do this distributes the benefit of improving communication and understanding globally.

Always consider how you are being heard by someone whose first language is not English, and at a minimum, slow down to aid understanding. Practice verbal communications with colleagues in other countries and ask them what they find hard to understand. Make the effort to have meetings at a reasonable time for the location you are communicating with.

It is always well received if you start early on occasions to talk to someone during their normal office hours. Avoid email as it leads to wasted time and the message can easily be misunderstood or lost. Use instant messaging for quick responses and finally use video conferencing wherever possible, but be aware of your body language, attire and surroundings.