Effective communication is vital for the success of multinational teams. While English is often considered the lingua franca, it comes with its own challenges due to cultural differences, slang, idioms, and jargon. To overcome these hurdles, a variant of English called Global English can be adopted.
Today we will explore the concept of Global English and provide specific examples of how it can enhance communication on global teams.
Understanding the Complexity of Language
Language is a powerful tool that allows us to connect and communicate with others. However, it is important to recognize that language is not a static entity but rather a complex and ever-evolving system. This complexity becomes especially apparent when working within a global team, where individuals from different cultural backgrounds may bring their own linguistic nuances and variations to the table.
One of the key challenges in global team communication is the presence of slang, idioms, and jargon. These elements are deeply rooted in specific cultural contexts and can be difficult to understand for non-native speakers or individuals unfamiliar with a particular dialect. For example, an American team member might use the phrase "break a leg" to wish someone luck, while a non-native English speaker may interpret this literally and be confused by the meaning.
Additionally, language can also be influenced by industry-specific jargon. Different sectors, such as technology, finance, or healthcare, have their own specialized vocabulary and terminology. While this jargon may be easily understood within a specific industry, it can create barriers when communicating with individuals from other sectors or disciplines.
Moreover, language is not solely about words; it also encompasses non-verbal cues, gestures, and expressions. These non-verbal elements can vary greatly across cultures and can significantly impact how a message is perceived. For instance, a thumbs-up gesture may be seen as a positive sign in Western cultures, but in some Middle Eastern countries, it can be seen as offensive.
In the context of global team communication, it is essential to recognize and navigate these complexities to ensure effective and inclusive communication. This requires a willingness to be open-minded, adaptable, and empathetic towards different linguistic backgrounds and cultural perspectives.
To overcome the challenges posed by language complexity, it is crucial to establish a foundation of mutual understanding and respect within the team. This can be achieved by promoting active listening, providing opportunities for clarification, and encouraging team members to express themselves openly and honestly.
Furthermore, fostering a culture of continuous learning and improvement can help team members expand their language skills and cultural awareness. This can be done through language training programs, cross-cultural workshops, or even informal language exchange initiatives within the team.
Understanding the complexity of language is vital for effective communication within global teams. By acknowledging the presence of slang, idioms, jargon, and non-verbal cues, team members can work towards creating an environment that values clarity, inclusivity, and cultural sensitivity. Embracing the diversity of languages and cultures within a team can lead to stronger collaboration, increased innovation, and ultimately, better outcomes.
Introducing Global English
Global English is a style of written and spoken English that has been optimized for clear and accurate communication in global contexts. By adopting Global English, teams can minimize misunderstandings and enhance collaboration.
Here are some key principles to consider:
Choose Clarity Over Business-isms: Replace jargon with literal words Jargon can be a barrier to effective communication, especially for non-native English speakers. Using clear and literal language helps ensure that messages are understood by everyone on the team. For example, instead of saying "Let's leverage our core competencies," simply state "Let's use our strengths."
Ditch Abbreviations: Abbreviations can be confusing or misinterpreted by team members who are not familiar with them. It is crucial to avoid using abbreviations unless they are widely recognized and understood globally. For instance, instead of using "FYI" (for your information), opt for the complete phrase.
Use Familiar Language Domestically, Literal Language Globally: When communicating within a specific cultural context, it is beneficial to use language that is familiar to team members. However, when communicating with a global audience, it is essential to use literal language that is universally understood. This approach ensures clarity and eliminates potential misinterpretations.
Connect with Empathy and Forgo Humor: Humor can be subjective and culturally specific, leading to misunderstandings or even offense. In a global team, it is crucial to connect with empathy and be mindful of cultural differences. Avoid relying heavily on humor and focus on building relationships based on respect and understanding.
Examples of Applying Global English in Global Team Communication
To illustrate the practical application of Global English, let's consider a few scenarios:
Example 1: A multinational team is discussing a new project. Instead of using technical jargon and acronyms, they communicate in clear and concise language, ensuring that everyone understands the objectives and tasks involved.
Example 2: During a video conference, a team member from a different cultural background makes a sarcastic comment. Recognizing the potential for misunderstanding, other team members respond with empathy and seek clarification, promoting a positive and inclusive communication environment.
Example 3: In an email exchange, a team member uses an abbreviation that is unfamiliar to the rest of the team. Instead of assuming its meaning, others kindly request clarification, allowing for effective communication without confusion.
In today's globalized world, effective communication on multinational teams is crucial for success. While English serves as a common language, its complexities and cultural nuances can hinder effective communication. By adopting Global English, which emphasizes clarity and understanding, teams can bridge these communication gaps. Remember to choose clarity over jargon, avoid confusing abbreviations, use familiar language domestically and literal language globally, and connect with empathy while forgoing potentially divisive humor. By embracing Global English, global teams can enhance collaboration, minimize misunderstandings, and achieve their goals with greater efficiency and harmony.
Jonathan H. Westover, PhD is Chief Academic & Learning Officer (HCI Academy); Chair/Professor, Organizational Leadership (UVU); OD Consultant (Human Capital Innovations). Read Jonathan Westover's executive profile here.