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If you’re planning on expanding your business internationally, Debra Chantry shares three simple and useful communication tips to ensure nothing gets lost in translation.

Generally speaking, New Zealand is held in positive regard around the globe. That puts native companies in a great position to start, but we must remember that we are part of a much bigger world and that growing our businesses often means opening new markets internationally.

Expanding your company to reach other parts of the world, however, requires knowing how to collaborate without foreseeable friction. Clients in Europe may have different needs from those in Asia, for instance. Plus, communication styles vary wildly. While videoconferencing capabilities can provide valuable visual context, non-video communication is usually necessary as well, and you must understand how texts, emails, or other messages will be perceived or interpreted from various cultures.

Learning to collaborate internationally has its challenges, but it’s a worthy endeavor, especially considering New Zealand’s relative geographical isolation. Expanding beyond the border to work with a wider variety of people and cultures can bring more diversity of thought to your teams, allowing you to see old problems from new perspectives. Establishing international networks and export markets can help grow your business exponentially as well, either through direct sales into new parts of the world or partnerships that enable you to deliver into new markets.

Plus, international collaboration brings many new opportunities for outsourcing services, which can result in significant cost savings for your business and can free up leaders’ time to focus on their highest-value work.

Sound complicated? It doesn’t have to be. If you want to make global moves, start with the basics, and keep things simple. The following steps can help:


1. Remove the uncertainty of colloquialisms.

Words like “chilly bins” and “jandals” might be everyday terms in New Zealand, but they’ll leave people from other parts of the world scratching their heads. If you’re going international, use international English and avoid Kiwi lingo. People will be confused by phrases they’ve never heard, sure, but if they feel like you’re not making an effort to adapt your language to ease communication, they might even be offended. Of course, slip-ups happen, so consider creating and sharing a common document to serve as a dictionary filled with colloquial phrases.

I like to have fun with my clients, so I use a little trick to help ease communication barriers. In meetings, we use soft toys to indicate when things might seem a bit uncomfortable for various reasons. One of our toys, for instance, is Elmo — which stands for “Enough, let’s move on!” We also have an elephant toy for the old “elephant in the room.” Flashcards could work just as well, especially during virtual meetings. It’s much more enjoyable to hold up a “You’re on mute… again!” card than to keep repeating yourself. 

We like to bring a little lightheartedness to what essentially amounts to calling someone else out. To senior managers, this might seem a little unprofessional, but we’ve found that it allows people at all levels to get in sync. You’d be surprised how many employees appreciate being able to speak up without seeming rude or feeling uncomfortable.

Of course, in all the ways you choose to communicate, remember to be aware of the people and cultures you’re working with. Just like not everyone will understand certain colloquial words and phrases, not all teams will be comfortable with bringing silliness into the professional sphere.


2. Rely on a world clock.

Many people today never turn off their electronic devices. Some feel a sense of obligation to respond to messages when they receive them, no matter if it’s 2 p.m. or 2 a.m. Remember that a message you send in the afternoon your time could reach someone in another country in the middle of the night their time.

To avoid bothering your new suppliers, partners, or clients outside of normal working hours, schedule your emails and other messages to send at appropriate times for the receiver. If you do send a message that might land outside working hours, be sure to explain that it doesn’t require an immediate response — unless it’s a true emergency. That way, you’re not placing unnecessary pressure on anyone to get back to you during their private time. On the other hand, if it is urgent, make that fact clear right away.

A world clock is an excellent tool for knowing what time to schedule meetings and generally staying aware of time zone differences. I keep one open(link is external) in a web browser at all times for easy reference.


3. Use a physical whiteboard.

Where would we be without technology and virtual solutions? Not where we are now, obviously. Nonetheless, don’t underestimate the power of low-tech tools for working collaboratively. I’m speaking about the old-fashioned whiteboard.

I personally love whiteboards, and not just the electronic ones. The dynamic is different when I’m standing up, writing intensively on a physical whiteboard, to when I’m sitting and scribbling on an iPad. Plus, when language barriers make spoken communication more difficult, visual aids can help tremendously.

I even prefer to use a whiteboard in virtual meetings. I rely on a high-definition web camera in video meetings so everyone can see the whiteboard clearly. Others in the meeting can contribute by making suggestions as I go, and I find it’s quite similar to what happens in face-to-face meetings. Don’t get so bogged down in innovative tech tools that you lose sight of a classic collaborative solution that’s deceptively simple.

Growing your business internationally is a big step and takes a lot of detailed logistical planning. But don’t forget the importance of basic communication and understanding. Keep the above hints in mind as you navigate working with people from around the world to make sure nothing is lost in translation.


Debra Chantry is a Professional EOS Implementer at EOS Worldwide.(link is external)


Glenn Baker

Glenn is a professional writer/editor with 50-plus years’ experience across radio, television and magazine publishing.


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