Top Tips from Onno Training

Clearer Communication with International Clients

4th May 2020, 6:00 pm

Now, more than ever, we are seeing the impact and importance of good communication. Not being able to work face-to-face has meant we’ve all had to adapt very quickly to maintain communication within our teams.

What we need to work on next is the communication with clients, especially those in other countries. It’s more difficult to predict and avoid miscommunication, and we need to add to that the difficulty of understanding cultural nuances that we are possibly unfamiliar with.

Communicating with clients in other countries doesn’t just depend on how well they speak English. Don’t rely on other people’s language skills to ensure you are communicating what you want, in the way you would like.

Follow these top tips to communicate more clearly with clients who speak different languages to instantly improve your chances of clearer communication, and by connecting with them better increase your chances of maintaining important relationships, supply chains, and sales.

Communicating with international clients

  1. Learn about them and the business

What is their first language? Do you know anything about the company culture? Are you speaking to the person equipped to make decisions? What do you have in common and where are the problems likely to be? The better prepared you are, the less likely you are to encounter misunderstandings later down the line.

  1. Consider their first language

Understanding how difficult a language is to learn depends a lot on our natural abilities to use language, but also on how close the language is to your own mother tongue. How similar, or not, is their mother tongue to English? Languages can vary in so many different areas. Some of the most important are: the order they use to express ideas, in the way they use (or don’t) verb tenses, in the script they use, in the date system them work with. All of this, and more things besides, will determine how difficult clear communication between you may be.

  1. Consider using an interpreter or translator

Are you communicating in English with them, or in their language? How good are your language skills? Do you need training in International English or Plain English to adapt your language if you communicate in English? Do the people you use to translate know what they’re doing? This is not an area to ignore – paying for a good translator (if you need one) will be worth it. You can ensure they are communicating your message clearly and their help can be vital in ensuring there are no misunderstandings.

  1. How do people show respect in this culture?

By asking to speak to the manager are you going to offend someone? Do you need to speak to someone at your level in the organisation, or can you speak directly to someone higher? Do you need to address the client in a particular way? Do you need to let them speak first? Not understanding these points can help to eliminate potential problems in this area. It’s more difficult to correct an error than it is to avoid it!

  1. Consider how long they need to build trust

Can they meet you, do business and then continue, or do they need time to build a personal relationship first? This can vary considerably between cultures. Western cultures are generally quite direct with this, but most Eastern and Asian cultures need longer to establish a connection. Needing longer to build a relationship before getting down to brass tacks can seem like a pointless exercise to some, but for others it can be a vital part of the business relationship. By jumping the gun, you can potentially cause the client to lose trust in you, and consequently lost that all important sale.

  1. Consider persuasion tactics

Again, these will change considerably depending on where your client is from. Generally, principles-first cultures need to know why you are doing something, whereas applications-first cultures will want to know the practical steps to take, the how. Anglo-Saxon cultures tend to prefer knowing ‘how’ (remember: ‘time is money’), but countries like Italy, France, Russia and Germany prefer to know ‘why’. With these cultures try to present an overview of the theory or idea before presenting the conclusion. This will resonate much more closely with their natural way of working.

  1. Communicate in person where possible

Some theories say that up to 90% of communication is non-verbal. This includes everything from eye-contact, tone, touch, pace, facial expressions, gestures…

By getting to see all this while you become more familiar with your clients, you will get a good idea of what is not being said, but that is still important to the message. Understandably, this isn’t always possible with international clients, but can you opt for Skype calls or Facetime occasionally?

  1. Follow up in writing

Many people who speak different languages will understand the majority of what you say, but not everything. This happens to us all, even when speaking in our mother tongue! When possible, send a follow up email with the key points to avoid confusion. Dates, times, prices and other agreements need to be clearly communicated to avoid delays in payments, late deliveries, forgotten meetings and a number of other vital elements.

  1. Don’t assume they’re rude

Look at how your clients are expressing their message. Are they being direct to save you time? This could be because they consider you to be a person of importance and don’t want to waste your time, not just blunt and to the point. Are they taking time to ask you personal questions and build a relationship? This could be because they value your connection and business, not because they’re nosey. Are they overly formal and make you feel uncomfortable? Are they too friendly? Are the slow to reply? Too quick to reply? Consider what cultural factors could be contributing to this before you jump to conclusions. Not sure what cultural influences might be at play here? Get Intercultural Communications training for you and your team and learn how it can impact your communications. 

  1. Don’t assume!

Learn about cultures, learn about your clients, but don’t assume. Preparation can help to avoid problems and misunderstandings, but we must remember that everyone is individual and that many, many factors can affect how and what we say. Learn, prepare, pay attention, but don’t assume.

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