The global world of business communication is changing rapidly.

Increased globalisation is forcing a growing number of companies to looks outside of their borders and become more international in the way they do business. More and more companies from developed economies are looking to expand their operations to emerging markets. The companies that will thrive however are the ones whose employees improve the effectiveness of communication and collaboration with customers, colleagues, suppliers and partners (Bailey, 2012).

Definition of communication

Communication is the exchange of meaning: it is my attempt to let you know what I mean. Communication includes any behaviour that another human being perceives and interprets: it is your understanding of what I mean. Communication includes sending both verbal messages (words) and nonverbal messages (tone of voice, facial expression, behaviour, and physical setting). It includes consciously sent messages as well as messages that the sender is totally unaware of sending. Communication, therefore, involves a complex, multi-layered, dynamic process through which we exchange meaning.

Although we think that the major obstacle in international business is in understanding the foreigner, the greater difficulty involves becoming aware of our own cultural conditioning. As anthropologist Edward Hall has explained, “What is known least well, and is therefore in the poorest position to be studied, is what is closest to oneself (8:45).” We are generally least aware of our own cultural characteristics and are quite surprised when we hear foreigners’ descriptions of us .

Effects on retail

It is important to know your customer, their preferences, and values in any market; but this task is even more complex in foreign markets. People in different countries place different values and priorities on different products. And some consumers prefer to buy certain products online, while others choose the traditional marketplace (Tran, 2015).

The inability to communicate with customers is one of one of the biggest barriers to selling internationally. Translation, however, is not enough. Basic customs, mannerisms and gestures are also important. For example, if a salesperson approaches a meeting with knowledge of a customer’s cultural background, then his words, body language and actions can all be adapted to better suit those of the customers. This, in turn, may lead to being better liked by the customer, ultimately increasing the salesperson’s opportunity to close the deal (Brown, 2017).

A good solution to overcome the first barriers is to hire locally. This way you can learn from their local practices and learn who the customers are, how transactions take place, cultural nuances of selling, service and money exchange. See what customers really value – related both to products and service provided.

 

What do I do if they do not speak my language?

VERBAL BEHAVIOUR

  • Clear, slow speech. Enunciate each word. Do not use expressions.
  • Repeat each important idea using different words to explain the same concept.
  • Simple sentences. Avoid compound, long sentences.
  • Active verbs. Avoid passive verbs.

NON-VERBAL BEHAVIOUR

  • Use more facial and hand gestures to emphasise the meaning of words.
  • Act out as many themes as possible.
  • Pause more frequently.
  • Hand out written summaries of your verbal presentation.

ATTRIBUTION

  • When there is a silence, wait. Do not jump in to fill the silence. The other person is probably just thinking more slowly in the non-native language or translating.
  • Do not equate poor grammar and mispronunciation with lack of intelligence; it is usually a sign of second language use.
  • If unsure, assume difference, not similarity.

COMPREHENSION

  • Do not just assume that they understand; assume that they do not understand.
  • Checking comprehension. Do not simply ask if they understand or not. Let them explain what they understand to you.