If you’ve worked in an international agency before, you’ve probably noticed that talking to colleagues or clients in other countries isn’t always as straightforward as you expect.
Sometimes people come across unfriendly, short, or downright rude. Seemingly basic things can turn complicated, email trails either never end or come to a premature halt, you still haven’t got that thing you asked for last week, and that lady from accounts seems to have a bee in her bonnet again.
As a German who has worked in English agencies for over five years now, I’ve had my fair share of confusion when it comes to intercultural communication (which is basically me talking to anyone, really). Especially when I was still new to the country, I used to stump people with my German directness (and still sometimes do). And you’ve confused me too! Instead of “I want you to do this now!”, people now used to say to me “You couldn’t just have a look into this little thing when you’ve got a moment?”. Well, more often than not, I was busy at the time, and it didn’t seem urgent, so… needless to say, I got in trouble.
The fact is, different countries communicate differently, and each culture deems other things important. I’ve learned – after many moments of uncomfortable bewilderment – that in England, politeness is key. You don’t jump right into business without engaging in friendly small talk about the weather or the last weekend, or ideally both, first. I’m used to that now. In Germany, questions about someone’s weekend might be classed as nosey, talk about the weather could seem like a waste of working hours (as would brew-making for the whole department and their dog).
Us Germans are not the only ones handling communication a bit differently; other countries have their idiosyncrasies as well. People are more direct, or less direct, more explicit or very tight-lipped, bang on time or always late. However, this is spoken from the perspective of me in the country I work in, not my colleagues’ or clients’ abroad. There’s two sides to every medal, remember.
As an international agency, we understand these differences, and adapt how we work to suit the people we’re working with – that means clients, stakeholders and audiences too. We’re experts in communication. We know what we want to say and we can articulate it in different ways. We know how to shape behaviour through communication. We practise the key elements for successful marketing every day, simply by communicating internationally.
In project management, being clear and concise is the key to successful communication. In a situation where various ways of working meet, the most important thing is clearly defining the deliverables and deadlines, and setting clear tasks and responsibilities. Timelines, scopes and to-do lists are our best friends in ensuring clarity and creating a smooth process. We have to remember to take the fuzziness out of conversation and set clear targets. That doesn’t mean we have to stop talking about the weather, though!
Got your own intercultural communication faux pas to share? Approach us as politely or directly as you please @mycleveragency.