Communicating across borders
Open mental doors: try another language!
Scientific support for GlobalDenmark’s approach to communication and language
By Ann Britt Donovan, consultant at GlobalDenmark
We work with professionals from many different countries who speak many different languages. Obviously, we don’t speak all the languages of the world, so our lingua franca is English.
For some of us at GlobalDenmark, English is our primary language, whereas for others English is a second – or maybe even a third – language. This is especially the case for many of the researchers and business professionals we have had the pleasure of advising on communication strategies over the past many years.
In our collaboration with this multicultural group, we have often seen evidence of how addressing an issue in your non-native tongue enables you to see that issue from a new angle and may ultimately lead to new insights. We have seen how discussing a sensitive topic in a language that is not your primary language may in fact allow you to access an awareness and emotions that were otherwise hidden to you in your ’own’ language.
Research in how language affects the way we think and behave has shown that organisations actually stand to gain from employing multicultural teams (see article); the individual team members represent different languages and cultures, and their brains see problems and solutions in different ways. Moreover, several studies have shown that individuals are inclined to make more rational decisions when they think in a non-primary language, because speaking an additional language provides greater cognitive and emotional understanding than just the native tongue.
We believe this to be very true because we see it every day. How about you?
Negotiation – A Learnable Technique!
I negotiate every day. It’s stressful. It requires nerves of steel. And it often ends with my counterpart breaking down in tears. But that’s a 4-year-old for you.
Negotiating in the world of business, however, requires a different set of skills and approaches - and less ice cream once negotiations have completely broken down.
I recently participated in the course GlobalNegotations, Business Focus offered by GlobalDenmark. I was apprehensive about the course initially, worried that my lack of experience would put me at a disadvantage. However, it was quickly apparent that although the participants all had varying degress of experience at the negotaiting table, we were all going to walk out of the door two days later with a deeper understanding of how to negotiate, when to negotiate, and whether or not we looked good on camera (more on that later).
It was clear from the get-go that this was a course that would involve active participation. We would not be passive recipients, taking in hour after hour of methods, strategies and theory. No, this was going to be learning by doing. And by making mistakes. This can be difficult for some, unnerving for most.
One of my main takeaways from the course, and there were many, was the importance of summation. When leading a meeting or a negotiation, or even just when giving a speech, it is important to remember your audience. Are they going to stick with you the whole way through, might their minds wander, were they momentarily distracted by an email, did you pile on too much information in the middle? When you sum up, you reiterate the main points of what you and others have said. This is vital in making sure that all participants are on the same page. If not, it can lead to confusion and misunderstandings at a later stage.
Another takeaway for me was the fact that a negotiation doesn’t take place in the vacuum of a meeting room. It is a much longer process, with multiple phases. Cultural expectations come into play here.
Danes traditionally expect the negotiation to take place at the table, whereas many other cultures also focus on the preliminary conversations out in the hallway, over coffee before the meeting begins or at a dinner together the night before. Although a seemingly innocent social event, the negotiation has already begun at this point. In such an informal setting, where personal relations are being established, a sense of each other’s needs and interests can begin to appear. And by using non-committal language, or distance modality, we can hover in the sphere of the possible rather than hit the hard ground of certainty.
Oh, and where does the camera come in? The exercises and the introductory remarks by each particiant were filmed. We were able to review our performances privately, and as a group. Once the initial horror of watching and hearing yourself on camera has passed (if ever), you realize what an incredible learning tool it is. To see yourself and others from the other side of the lense makes you better able to evaluate and spot the techniques and pitfalls of a negotiation.
And finally, beware of assumptions. What is said, is not always what is meant. A person’s interests are not always explicitdly stated. When my 4-year-old refuses to walk up four flights of stairs, it’s not necessarily because he’s tired or lazy (which I’m assuming). It may also be because he’d rather go play basketball in the courtyard. But because we’re not communicating clearly, neither of us are particularly happy. And unfortunately, there’s not an ice cream in sight. For either of us. Children are usually surprisingly competent negotiators – the rest of us will have to learn how to do it properly. And that was the objective of the GlobalNegotiations workshop. There may be an ice cream coming anyway!
Intern at GlobalDenmark
How to be a great presenter – tips from a carpenter
Recently, a young businessman reminded me about what really makes a presentation work. In front of 30 business people, Anders Møll, a carpenter by trade, shared the story of how he’s built his business up and why he loves his job. Mark Harvey Simpson, senior consultant, writes about this experience:
What worked so well in Anders’ presentation?
Anders made his story human. He shared the challenges he’d faced in building his business. He showed his passion for his trade and how he’s genuinely interested in his customers. Everyone in our business network BNI Copenhagen now knows that Anders makes sure his staff share his passion for excellent carpentry and customer service. His passion made us all want to listen to his story. And, by the way, Anders did this by simply being himself – staying true to his own style of speaking. Down-to-earth, open and with a smile.
Can we all present like Anders?
Yes – but in our own way. When I train business people, civil servants and scientists to present, we work on how they can be themselves with skill when presenting.
Here are a few questions we should all ask when preparing to be ourselves in a presentation:
- What’s the difference I wish to make for my audience? This difference comprises the ideas and impressions that you wish to imprint in the minds of your audience. Being clear about this makes us better presenters.
- What’s important to me about the subject I’m presenting? Make sure to share why your subject is important to you. You’ll create relevance. You’ll make your audience think - ‘this presenter is personally committed to the subject – I’d better listen’.
- Can I share a story that illustrates the relevance of the subject for me and others? A good personal story will reinforce your message.
For example, on GlobalDenmark’s presentation courses, I tell the story of how nerves sometimes prevented me from enjoying my job when I was a younger teacher and presenter. And I explain how I learnt to deal with nerves, and how we all can do so.
To return to Anders, he reminds us all about three things really. When presenting: - be interested in your audience - show your interest in your subject - be yourself. Be passionate, and people may become passionate about you… and your business.
Mark Harvey Simpson, senior consultant at GlobalDenmark A/S
Brexit: the end of English-language dominance in Europe?
You are not attending a language beauty contest! Negotiators and scientists and many others use English as their working language when communicating across borders. This certainly goes for the Danes. Many Danes hate the Danish sound when they and others speak English. Will we be relieved of that burden if the UK leaves the EU?
English and French are the primary working languages in the EU. Translation agencies, interpreters and language teachers are naturally keenly aware of this. Over the years, many EU citizens have expressed concern over the smaller languages falling into oblivion. English and French are the dominant languages at the expense of millions of Spanish, Italian and Polish-speaking people.
Many negotiators feel that the Brits have the upper hand if the negotiation language is English. But what if they are no longer there? True, the Irish will still be more fluent in English than most of their fellow EU members. But still...
At GlobalDenmark we believe that using one’s mother tongue in a multilingual and multicultural environment is not necessarily an advantage. See our blog from 2 May. The challenge is not attending a language beauty contest, but ensuring that all parties involved understand each other. Culture and attitude are as important as language skills.
Most polls anticipate a Brexit in a few hours. Nobody can tell with much certainty what consequences this will have. Except, perhaps, that it will not be pretty. Will the English language gain more credibility in the EU if the UK leaves the family? Hm… let’s return to this subject in a few years’ time.
Native English speakers find it hardest to speak English
The heading may seem like something of a non sequitur, but in an international context, native speakers of English can often find it harder to make themselves understood in English than non-native speakers.
I was recently hired to interpret at a meeting attended by two financial consultants from South Africa and Danish/ German tax experts. As it turned out, all the Danes and Germans attending the meeting spoke excellent English, and it quickly became clear that my role would be to help in the event of problems with technical terms. However, I had very little to do in this regard until the term ‘daughter company’ was used. All the non-native speakers had no problem understanding this as ‘subsidiary’ – they all understood this literal translation from the Danish “datterselskab” and the German “Tochtergesellschaft” – but the South Africans needed help. Apart from this, everyone understood the technical terms without difficulty.
As the meeting progressed, it became clear that my assistance was mainly required because the South Africans spoke as if they were talking to fellow nationals. They simply neglected to take into account that they were in a global English setting and not a South African English setting. This became evident in a number of ways. Firstly, it took time for them to slow down a little; their South African accent was unfamiliar to the Danes and the Germans, who needed a little time adjusting to this new accent. Secondly, the South Africans used many everyday idioms such as ‘sailing close to the wind’ that the non-native speakers simply didn’t know. And like many South Africans, they used ‘is it?’ as an exclamation like ‘really?’, which was very puzzling to the Danes and Germans. Finally, the South Africans tended to dominate the conversation as they didn’t allow time for the non-native speakers to digest comments and formulate their replies.
So even though I was originally approached with an enquiry to act as an interpreter at this international meeting, in reality my job was not to act as an interpreter between two or three languages, it was to ‘translate’ from English into English – into global English.
By chance, on returning to the office, my colleagues were discussing this very issue, as they had come across an article about how many native English speakers fail to recognise the difference between ‘real English’ and global English – and as a consequence risk missing out on business opportunities abroad. It seems that my experiences with the South Africans are fairly commonplace.
So the next time you’re in a meeting with a native speaker of English and have trouble understanding what your counterpart is saying, perhaps it’s not your own English that needs improving, but rather the international communication skills of the native speaker. Or GlobalCompetence as we call it.
Oral presentations: How to generate valuable dialogue with your listeners
“20 minutes for your talk, 5 minutes for questions from the audience” – oh no, not again. At conferences, speakers are usually given a fair amount of speaking time and then only a very small window for audience response. I wish it were the other way around. When the listeners respond with questions and comments, we have dialogue. Valuable dialogue.
Are you, dear speaker, worried about questions from the audience? Well, don't be too worried about that. Audiences generally consist of resourceful people, and many may well have something valuable to contribute. If they are invited to.
“What if there are no questions from the audience?” A standard concern – how can we generate more valuable dialogue with our audiences? One step is to have your 3-5 key points on your last slide, see our previous blog.
Another is for audiences to learn how to ask questions and for speakers to address them. Senior consultant at GlobalDenmark, Mark Simpson, recently conducted a workshop on presentation techniques. We have two video clips from the workshop. Here, Mark deals with exactly these two points: how to ask questions and how to address them. In other words, how to make oral presentations more valuable. Click on "Videos" in the top menu.
Generate more value in your oral presentations
Over the past couple of weeks, we have conducted three seminars on how to give effective oral presentations. Our participants were researchers from many different countries. English is our working language on the seminars, regardless of nationality. We all have different accents and different styles, but, interestingly, we also have many similarities. Globalisation implies that we adopt the same manners and conventions, regardless of where we are on the planet. We meet up and inspire each other. That’s what makes our workshops so rewarding for participants and instructors alike.
We observe developments in presentation techniques, many for the better, some for the worse. Speakers base their choices on taste and technical requirements. Other choices are not really choices, but more conventions, things we do without really thinking too much about it. An example is the final slide in an oral presentation: speakers increasingly round off their presentation by saying “thank you” (warmly recommended!), and then we are shown a slide with a pretty picture and “Thank you - questions?”. That slide often stays on the screen when members of the audience ask questions
Do we really need the “thank you” in writing? Generally, we think not. We recommend that the last slide in oral presentations gives the audience 3-5 punchlines that sum up the essence of the presentation. If that slide stays on the screen, it will inspire relevant dialogue with the audience. Better questions - relevance. The speaker knows that the essence of the presentation has been communicated. Five take-home punchlines - value. Thank you for your attention.
Cross-cultural communication and academia: A rewarding experience
We recently conducted a four-day workshop for 16 PhD students on how to write scientific papers. Many nationalities were represented with a huge variety of communication and feedback styles. Apparently tedious disciplines such as writing processes, rhetorical issues, grammar and text structure were addressed. It was not tedious at all. The course scored 4.8 out of 5 on average. It was a highly rewarding course for many reasons. One of them had less to do with writing and much more to do with cross-cultural communication: in the course of the four days, Tanzanian, Chinese, Polish and Danish PhD students would discuss their own scientific texts with their fellow participants, respectfully and constructively. Demonstrable improvements were made, and invaluable relationships were established across cultures and personalities. Indeed a rewarding experience!
Velkommen til vores nye site
Det har været en spændende og krævende kommunikationsopgave at arbejde med et system der kan så grueligt meget. Vores nye site skal passe til en masse forskellige formater. Alene det at man vender telefonen på langs, kræver at layoutet automatisk ændres. Vi har været på fremmed territorium, uden for vores egne grænser. Vores kommunikation med leverandøren, Tangora, har sat alle parter på prøve: forstår eksperterne det vi gerne vil have? Forstår vi eksperterne som må tro at vi umuligt kan have opfundet den dybe tallerken? Det har krævet stor tålmodighed hos alle parter. Tak for det. Der er stadig et stykke vej til at “det hele kører” – tålmodighed er stadig en dyd vi må trække på. Vi er meget fortrøstningsfulde og kan godt stille i udsigt at det bliver lidt mere givende at besøge os her.
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Interest in the other side: the road to mutual benefit
May was a month when I had the pleasure of facilitating a meeting with some 30 young people – predominantly medical students – who spend much of their time helping others in Ebola-stricken areas, in countries bogged down by poverty, HIV-AIDS and natural disasters. Fascinating to hear their stories and observations, and intriguing to learn that in the midst of “doing good” out there, these young people are keenly aware of what they get out of it themselves: profound personal satisfaction and invaluable professional experience. I hope this attitude survives well into the future!
The comma and global misery: Proportions
Ukraine in turmoil, the Middle East in tatters, Europe in a shambles… Newspaper front pages are filled with disturbing reports on how unstable our planet seems to have become. Terrifying stories about young girls in Africa being abducted, people being decapitated on video, tropical storms eradicating entire islands.
The list of horrors is long and merciless. Have we reached a point of saturation? Last week, a leading Danish newspaper had suddenly cleared its entire front page. Something more important merited space: the future of the Danish comma! Recently we learned that BBC Top Gear star Jeremy Clarkson had been suspended. This was given more than half an hour of prime time on CNN.
How can the demise of a TV host and the future of a Danish comma overshadow news about wars, natural disasters and human misery? Understandable, perhaps, and rather thought-provoking.