Effective communication drives workplace success. As our work environment becomes increasingly multicultural and multilingual, and with English being the global lingua franca, it is not uncommon to hear many native and non-native accents at a workplace.
An accent reflects the unique background of a person and is a source of pride for many. However, an accent that is difficult to understand can have a negative impact on one’s communicational clarity. It may lead to ineffective communicational exchanges, misunderstandings, social isolation, missed career opportunities, and even discrimination.
Having said that, communication is a two-way stream. There are many strategies that both conversational partners can employ to ensure communication success.
Here are my 10 tips for successful communication on a multilingual team –
1. Be aware of linguistic stereotyping. Discrimination and prejudice based solely on one’s accent are real, rampant, and often occur at a subconscious level. Research has shown that it takes only 30 seconds from hearing someone speak for a listener to subconsciously develop a set of assumptions about a person’s identity that can then create a stereotyped idea of that person’s abilities and trustworthiness. This insidious form of discrimination can have a significant negative impact on one’s personal, professional, and emotional livelihood. You may think that you are immune to this type of prejudice, but in reality, try as we might, we are all guilty of judging a book by its cover. Awareness of the existence of linguistic discrimination is the first step toward overcoming this implicit bias.
2. If possible, opt for face-to-face interactions, either in person or via video conferencing. Communication is not just verbal. Much is conveyed non-verbally through gestures, body language, and facial expressions. If face-to-face is not an option, here is a guide on clear communication over the phone.
3. Speak at a moderate pace. This will automatically make you enunciate clearer. Pause at natural phrasal boundaries. The pauses are like punctuation in spoken language and will give the conversation partner time to digest your message. Do not talk too slowly and never talk loud as if the other person is deaf. If the conversation partner is talking too fast or their accent is difficult to understand, politely ask them to slow down.
4. Take time to emphasize, summarize, and repeat the important points you’re making.
5. Avoid slang and idioms. Even the most advanced English learners may not fully grasp such idioms as “there’s more than one way to skin a cat.” Even some native speakers may not fully comprehend the nuances of some of the latest slang words, such as “low-key” or “sus.” Non-native speakers should also refrain from using slang and idioms until you are comfortable with these expressions. Using them incorrectly or in the wrong context at work can backfire.
6. Keep your words and sentences short and straightforward. Less is more. Saying “Please do this as soon as possible” is much more comprehensible than “Please have it done in an efficacious manner.”
7. The use of visuals can make a big difference in conveying concepts and ideas. Make use of infographics, photos, and diagrams to supplement your messages.
8. Avoid talking over your conversation partner. Turn-taking is a much-underrated skill. Make a point, and then listen to the other person’s response. It is a good practice to converse in short exchanges rather than delivering a long monologue that might be difficult for the other person to follow.
9. Practice active listening. Nod and give verbal indications that you are paying attention to the conversation partner. Summarize, restate, and ask questions about what the other person has said to make sure you have understood them correctly.
10. Don’t pretend to understand when you didn’t. Ask people to repeat if you do not understand them. If you still don’t understand, ask them to say it differently. If you don’t understand a word, ask them to spell it, write it down, use a synonym, or use Google Translate.
In conclusion, successful communication is a two-people job. We may speak with different accents, but we all deserve to be heard.
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