Most people would agree that it’s easier to connect with colleagues who share basic similarities—culture, language, communication styles—because that mutual understanding facilitates the kind of communication that make work relationships smoother. According to a 2016 global survey from CultureWizard, with respondents from 80 countries, 68 percent reported that cultural challenges were the biggest hurdle to global virtual team productivity and 18 percent reported that their companies have lost business opportunities because of cultural misunderstandings (my firm would estimate that number to be higher).
These days, even if you share office space with co-workers, multicultural factors are at play. This means that your staff must work effectively across diverse communication styles and cultural backgrounds to achieve business goals.
But what does working effectively mean on a practical level? It means actively working to understand people to influence and motivate them to achieve business results. This is even more critical when managing employees in global organizations.
Virtual team managers must learn how to effectively communicate across cultures to accomplish results. If you follow the five strategies below, you will develop your cross-cultural virtual communication skills and become more effective in these global settings.
I use the acronym LEARN to outline these steps:
Strategy 1: Listen
Active listening is the single most useful way to overcome barriers to effective communication. We listen for meaning by checking back with the speaker to ensure that we have accurately heard and understood what was said. Communicating across cultures adds another layer to the “noise” that is already present, which makes it critical to add that extra step of checking back.
Listen for meaning. For example, people from diverse cultures may use the same word in different ways, so repeating what you think you heard and asking if that’s what was intended confirms your understanding of its meaning.