The intonation of his French talk raised my interest and soon I discovered that when speaking in his native language he tended to present the facts in a more elaborate way and also in more depths. A fact I often recognize in my business seminars, too. The way in which we express our words plays a vital role in understanding each other and we need to focus even more on this issue if speaking in a foreign language, especially if we do not face our communication partner.
Recently, I have been travelling cross-country Tunisia when I was reminded of the hilarious and awkward situations communication in international contexts can expose us to. I was on a trip to the first Star Wars movie set and listened to the tour guide who was a linguistically gifted local in his fifties. While I was sitting in the back of the coach, I listened thoroughly to the PA-System over which he addressed the mixed audience of the coach. Since I could not see him, I had to rely on his diction, which only transports 7% of the content of his lecturing according to the communication model of Mehrabian. The guide started his speech in very good German, switched to excellent English, and finished with a French version of the facts and figures.
As one usually has English explanations on such tours I tried to ignore the additional language versions without success. The intonation of his French talk raised my interest and soon I discovered that when speaking in his native language he tended to present the facts in a more elaborate way and also in more depths. A fact I often recognize in my business seminars, too. People are inclined to put more information in a conversation held in their mother tongue than in one they hold in their second or even third language. This implication means that it is even more important to not only listen to the content of what is said, but also to perceive the 38% of information transmitted on the meta level of diction. The way in which we express our words plays a vital role in understanding each other and we need to focus even more on this issue if speaking in a foreign language especially if we do not face our communication partner.
Moreover, face-to-face communication allows us to grab the remaining 55% of communication, which are transported via body language such as facial expression, gestures, and posture according to Mehrabian. This more than half part of information transmission helps us to get the message clear and prevents from misunderstandings in most cases as long as we know how to read those signals properly. Even more so as we constantly interpret our opposites’ behaviour due to an evolutionary programme, it is important to receive as many information from him as possible to really understand what he intends to say. Misinterpretation is the most widely spread source of misunderstandings and conflicts between people and in working environments.
Often, when clients approach me as trainer and coach, and when it comes to the clarification of needs and goals for the target group they want to have trained, HR and employers come up with such issues as conflict management, team development, or how to handle difficult customers. Each of these topics are worth a seminar on their own. Yet, I regularly discover that the underlying issue in many business settings and companies is a substandard knowledge of communication processes and principles in general. This does not apply only in international contexts but also in native communication settings. Additionally, this challenge spreads across all hierarchical levels and the variety of all professions. My recommendation is to empower people to become aware and understand how they communicate before putting them into a conflict management seminar for example. Why? What use is the knowledge of conflict solving strategies when one permanently misreads the communication signals of others and, moreover, is unaware of the stimuli he himself sends when communicating?
Language skills in our globalized business world are inevitable and such is language training. Intercultural understanding is another vital ingredient of successful international business. Knowledge of appreciative and efficient communication is core to successful interaction in native and foreign language. The responsibility to perceive their partners’ ways of communication and the awareness of their own stance of communication lies within the individual. This can be trained in a variety of valuable seminars on powerful communication skills.