Being able to communicate with clarity and precision is in great demand these days. Our world has become loud, hectic and impatient and only those of us who are good communicators are able to cut through with their messages. This situation gets complicated by the fact that we live and work in a rapidly globalising world where business communication flows in English. And even though many people speak English well, they often don’t pay enough attention to the essential rules of good communication which results in regular misunderstandings and even conflict.
It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood.
Here are my four simple rules for communicating with clarity and precision in global settings:
- Know and follow the rules of the language (accuracy).
By the rules of the language I mean grammar, vocabulary and syntax. Many people seem to think that it’s OK to use substandard language and they hope to get away with it because their partners “are also non-native speakers”. While it is true that most users of English are non-native speakers, breaking language rules will only make you look unprofessional, lazy and disrespectful. The goal of communication is to convey a clear message, and this can hardly be done when you use wrong grammar, vocabulary or syntax. If you need to brush up on grammar rules, buy a good book such as Business Grammar Builder or any book by Michael Swan and Catherine Walter and make it your good friend.
Know and respect the code of the language (culture).Every language reflects the values and character of the culture which shaped it. British English is quite verbose and elegant in expression and it relies on understatement and reservation. American is quick, dynamic and opportunistic and relies on hyperbole and exaggeration. German is orderly, direct, efficient and heavy in detail. The social conventions are also reflected in the language. In American English people start using first names almost immediately but in German it might take a very long time indeed. The same can be said for the style: in English the style will shift to neutral or even informal very quickly, but in German it will remain formal even in the best business relationship. German style of communication is direct and almost confrontational while the British English is vague and polite in order to avoid open confrontation. The key to using the code of language well is to know it first, of course, but also not to use the code of your own language and simply fill it with English words. Remember, people will forgive you grammar mistakes, but they will not forgive you if you break the cultural conventions because this will make them feel uncomfortable on emotional level.
Know and observe the word economy (completeness)Albert Einstein said that “Everything should be as simple as it can be, but not simpler”This describes perfectly how I understand the application of word economy. The message should be expressed elegantly and lightly, yet completely. Use only the necessary words to convey the maximum of meaning. Make each word earn its place in the sentence. Finding this balance is difficult, but well worth the effort. Think of word economy as a sports car: it should be light and streamlined to fulfil it’s purpose (speed and power).
Avoid “volume” writing / speech (lightness)Following the car analogy, volume writing (or speech) is the equivalent of a truck and like a truck it has little to do with elegance and speed. Some people love to be verbose because they think it makes them look more professional or knowledgeable. The sad truth is that they sound boring or self-important and their audience disconnects very quickly because they don’t understand half of what is said. The same is true for volume writing. It might be useful when you are at school and write to fill the word count, but not in business. Remember, in business time is money. Your message must be clear and immediately understandable. If people have to read your email or report twice, your message is probably full of verbose clutter. The rule of lightness also requires that you use high frequency vocabulary, unless of course you are writing and speaking to a highly specialised audience who will easily understand specialised words.
Successful communication is a challenge under the best of circumstances and using a language that is not your mother tongue presents a special challenge. By following these simple principles you will have a good chance to avoid unnecessary misunderstandings and to communicate effectively in the global workplace.