UK: SME/Professional counsel - Talking across cultures.

UK: SME/Professional counsel - Talking across cultures. - Beware of differences when meeting overseas colleagues.

by Steven Pritchard.
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Beware of differences when meeting overseas colleagues.

Don't assume that the format of your first international meeting will be sufficiently similar to your experiences on home ground that common-sense will suffice. Meeting with overseas colleagues is not always that simple. What works in one culture will not automatically work in another.

In some cultures informal networking is often as important as the meeting itself. 'Let's do lunch' is not an optional extra. Others place more emphasis on agreeing outcomes and action plans or briefing colleagues.

Preparation is important. Work out what your colleagues expect. If in doubt, telephone and ask. Some people want briefing papers in advance to study and will then make notes during the meeting. They may prefer to stick to a pre-ordained and inflexible agenda or they may expect those at the meeting to speak in strict rotation via the chair. Others favour a less structured format in which free-flowing discussion or brainstorming is more important.

Get the meeting off to a good start by agreeing the agenda and chair in advance. Some people respond better if the meeting is chaired in an authoritative style, while others prefer something less obtrusive.

If the meeting is in English, translate the briefing notes. Be considerate and patient. Check for differences in understanding during the meeting and paraphrase or summarise key points. Non-English speaking colleagues need time to translate and respond - this can lead to periods of silence.

Don't try to fill the silences. Allow time for reflection and response.

Avoid jargon and slang which may be difficult for outsiders to follow.

Cultures use and trust oral, literal and visual communication to different degrees. North European cultures tend to be more literal and like points to be confirmed in writing. Elsewhere, you may find a more oral approach.

Try to use written, visual and oral communication to make your meaning clear and credible. Also watch body language - it can sometimes tell you more than what is said.

Steven Pritchard is a consultant at cross cultural specialists TMA.

0171 917 2784.

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