Many people find that a major obstacle to successful cross-border working seems to stem from difficulties arising from communication problems but communication problems do not arise solely due to the fact that people have different native languages – although this is undoubtedly an issue.
Other factors can make communication across cultures quite difficult and it is imperative that everybody who works cross-border understands what the potential barriers to successful international communication might be.
It is not simply because we all speak different languages that communication problems can arise – it is also linked to the fact that different cultures use language differently. What one culture feels to be a very positive communication style can often be considered a very poor communication style in another culture.
All too often approaches to communication which differ from the norm in your own culture can be misinterpreted as a personality defect. Instead of people thinking, ‘that’s the way they use language in that particular country’ people associate language style with negative characteristics such as rudeness or evasiveness.
Another major difficulty in many situations is that non-native speakers are obviously at a serious disadvantage in all international communication scenarios. No matter how good somebody is in a second language, they are never as fluent as they are in their native language.
Very often, the common international language of meetings will be English and native speakers will make few efforts to speak in a ‘user-friendly’ fashion to help their non-native speaker colleagues or clients. Native speakers need to think very carefully about their use of language when interacting in an international context.
And remember that English is spoken in different ways by different people – UK English often differs significantly from US English.