Imagine a typical meeting in an international company. People slowly filing in, taking their seats, checking project update notes, glancing at the agenda, acknowledging each other with a courteous nod… all in absolute silence… Sullen faces, tense atmosphere … clearly something is amiss. As the meeting progresses it becomes apparent that only few out of the several participant are willing to contribute. The majority remains seemingly withdrawn, offering only brief answers when directly addressed. What was supposed to be a productive problem-solving or a decision-making session turns into a collective “checking- off- the-to-do-list”. Bad day? Lack of commitment?
Fast forward to a busy afternoon in the open office space, where most of the employees use only short, standard emails to communicate with stakeholders. Follow-ups are being exchanged, deliverables from the last meeting confirmed, everyone is back in their comfort-zone. Suddenly, a telephone rings, then rings again, people carry on going about their tasks, save for a few anxious glances towards the phone. Come on, just answer it, anyone?
Now, you may think this is a particularly pessimistic vision of an organization with communication problems. In fact, as firms are finding that their operations are becoming more global, their communication activities are not necessarily getting more global. The stumbling block is the language barrier. Misunderstandings, irritations, feelings of exclusion, and anxiety are daily challenges for non-native English speakers trying to communicate in the language of global business. The same goes for any foreign language. Vast amounts of skill, expertise, knowledge, and creativity remain hidden in organizations.
This is not necessarily because of the poor general command of a foreign language, since for most employees ability to speak at least English is an entry level requirement. The problem seems to run deeper and involves lack of confidence and inhibitions leading to unwillingness to communicate freely and preventing the employees to draw on the language resources they already have. There is also the difficulty in understanding native speaking teammates, supervisors, clients and other stakeholders, due to unfamiliar accents, abundance of idiomatic expressions and subtle cultural nuances.
As a result, the employees’ foreign language abilities which came as an asset, often certified by an established language testing institution, prove to be an obsolete and obscure tool, without an obvious way to put it to proper use.
The good news is it doesn’t have to be that way.
Your employees’ existing language resources can and indeed should be activated, their confidence given a substantial boost. When you re-energize the communication skills of your staff it will be to the benefit of their performance in an international business environment and that is sure to reflect in your bottom-line. What is more, with the newly gained confidence, surface new skills and levels of motivation soar. Teams that could have been deemed underperforming before, deliver beyond expectations, stakeholders are satisfied that they are being heard and understood.
And finally, nobody hesitates to pick up that phone anymore…
So, it’s over to you. Want to meet those targets? Get those results? Focus on what your business REALLY needs in terms of foreign language expertise. Now, here’s a worthy project.