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With access to so many services, like Zoom, that allow us to talk to people around the world day-in and day-out, we often take for granted the fact that we’re living in an international community. That is, it is so easy to connect that we don’t really appreciate that the person on the other end might have trouble communicating with us or understanding our culture.
When we welcome an international participant for the first time via video, there may be some things that will stand out to us about that person, and vice versa. This is known as a culture shock, and there are some things you can do to make the transition from a foreign environment easier. It involves lots of reciprocity and etiquette that you don’t normally practice among your close colleagues, but it will ease into a better experience for everyone.
Zoom’s meetings provide a rich environment by which people can build rapport, but you still have to give the meeting direction and context. Here’s how.
In Germany, men are addressed as “Herr” and then their last name and women are addressed as “Frau” and then their last name. Do you know how to introduce the person who is joining in? This isn’t important in some countries, but can be impolite in others if not done properly. Consider peering over the etiquette rules for the country your guest hails from. If your guest is accustomed to speaking to people from your country, there may not be such a strong need for this level of catering. But if you want to make your guest feel comfortable and sociable, you must first appeal to this person’s culture.
Make sure you check a recent guide, as customs within nations sometimes change rapidly and you could end up seeming old fashioned. For example, the term “Fraulein” is the traditional German word for an unmarried woman, but it’s now seen as out-of-date and most women prefer just “Frau.”
Figures of speech are problem areas for inter-cultural exchanges. Some of them can be translated perfectly to English (or your language), but the speaker may not know how to do so. Take the Romanian “grabă strică treabă” as an example. Its literal translation is “speed breaks work.” Confused? It’s better translated as “haste makes waste.” If you get the gist of their common figures of speech, you might better appreciate what they’re saying in the same way they do. This is crucial when trying to communicate quickly without having to resort to an excessive amount of explanations. Be aware when you’re speaking too that you don’t use too many unexplained figures of speech yourself.
Even when you are all technically speaking the same language, strong accents or fast talking can cause the meeting to descend into chaos. You may hang in there for 15 seconds, but we guarantee you’ll be regretting not having an interpreter around very quickly. To make an international meeting very productive, it’s best to have an interpreter around that can easily translate between you and your guest.
This isn’t always an option though so you’ll also have to train your ear to get into the rhythm of other people’s speech patterns and slow down your own speech to accommodate non-native ears.
For the best experience with a foreign guest, participants in a meeting should be able to face each other. This way, even if they didn’t catch a phrase correctly, people can at least pick up the pieces by interpreting lip movements, and body and facial cues (yes, Zoom is that high-def). Though most of us don’t actively lip-read, our minds subconsciously use lip interpretation as an aid to supplement hearing. That’s why a slightly “fuzzy” audio recording can be enhanced by just showing how the participants’ lips moved. Audio-only connections don’t allow for this extra visual information to get through to the other side.
There will always be that moment in a meeting. You know what we’re talking about. It’s that precise moment when everything pipes down just slightly and people get into a casual conversation vibe. At that point, you can definitely make your guest feel welcome by asking about things particular to his/her own country. For example, you can ask a Turk about Ankara (their capital) or Raki (a popular traditional drink). You may find common ground in these conversations, giving you the rapport you need for a solid deal-maker.
To top this list off, we’d like to tell you that you’ll make a great impression if you use an interface like ours. We advise you tell your guests to shield their eyes for a few seconds before proceeding, lest their heads explode from sheer amazement. Do yourself (and anyone you meet with) a favor and sign up for a free account!