Simple Communication Tips to Set Up Respectful Global Relationships

If you haven’t communicated with a client or colleague in another country recently, chances are you will do so soon. Technology and our global economy have shrunk our geographical boundaries.

Developing a global customer-centered approach to communication is essential for establishing respectful and productive working relationships.

This can be particularly challenging for those in the United States, where we are so used to seeing ourselves as the center of the world that we don’t even realize we have that attitude.

If you are from the United States (or any country), here are eight simple things you can do in your initial communications with clients and colleagues in other countries to demonstrate you have a customer-centered viewpoint.

  1. Spell words the way your client does. You can look up spelling differences on the Internet (e.g. American English and British English differences). Or you can watch how your client spells words. In the UK, words ending in “ize” are spelled “ise,” words with the letter “z” are usually spelled with “s,” and words ending in “or” are spelled “our” (e.g. organisation, recognise, analyse, flavour, and colour).
  2. Use at least some words in your client’s language. You can easily look up how to translate “Good Day” into any language and it is much appreciated by your client.
  3. Use your client’s colloquialisms. When using English, pay attention to your client’s use of the language. For example, when communicating with colleagues in the UK, try using “brilliant” instead of “wonderful” or “great.”
  4. End your communication with “Kind Regards” or “Best Regards.” In the United States, we tend to be more informal, ending with “Thanks” and sometimes no valediction at all. Wait to make sure your client is comfortable with the informal endings before using them.
  5. Set meeting times using your client’s time zone. If your client is in Madrid, you can use a time zone converter to find out what 7:00 am your time is in Madrid. Set your meeting using Madrid time, not your own. Don’t expect your client to have to do the work to convert to your time zone.
  6. Format times the way your client does. Many countries use a 24 hour clock. If so, set a 2:00 pm conference call with a client for 14:00.
  7. Format dates the way your client does. Many countries format the calendar with the date before the month. For example: 21 August 2011
  8. Offer to schedule conference calls at times most convenient for your client. You might need to get up at 5:00 am, but you will score big points with them.

In the long run, the true test will be the quality of your ongoing interactions. But these simple and easy to do things go a long way to demonstrate you are adapting to your client, rather than expecting them to adapt to you, and help you set the stage for developing strong, productive relationships within the global workplace.

p.s. Remember Canada is another country, not part of the United States.

6 comments to Simple Communication Tips to Set Up Respectful Global Relationships

  • Jesse, this is such a big deal at the moment. Funny enough, I alternate with my Blog on spelling. Our influence on language down here is pretty much British English and television is pretty much Hollywood (so American English). It makes for very confused people. Hence when I write for local communication I tend to stick to how we were schooled and on my Blog, which I see as accessible to all, I mix it up. This is just the beginning, but it is important to meet your clients where they are.

    • Thabo, It’s interesting to hear about the influence of American television on language in South Africa, which has used primarily British English in the past. Since you are taking into account who your audience is, I can see how it can get confusing to decide what language to use on your blog. Hopefully as we Americans become more familiar with the differences in English, we will be the ones who adapt rather than expecting people in other countries to adapt. Thanks so much for taking the time to share your experience on this topic!

  • fay kandarian

    All good suggestions, Jesse. I would add to be aware of the holidays and key religious observances in the countries in which one is working. Hope you are having a great time in Moscow right now!

  • I have found watching media from the area you’re customers are from can be very helpful. Movies and television shows that are not being broadcast here can clue you in to local slang and customs. I’ll rent a show and every time I get confused by a word, look it up online to find out the meaning.
    As funny as it sounds, watching Bollywood movies has given me a strong understanding of the cultural differences between America and India. While they are definitely more “Americanized”, you get a view of how much more formal and respectful they are with each other and can use that in your interactions with people. It’s the subtle things that really make a difference. And taking the time to understand their culture will be obvious and appreciated.
    Great post and idea. In this day and age we have to start thinking like this to succeed in business.

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