The value of communication in a global world

Kellie Noon from Onno Consulting shares insights. “Communicating globally is something we can develop. It’s a beautiful gift and tool and one we need to value.”

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Thank you to Kellie Noon of Onno Consulting for sharing her insights here!

The value of communication

Communication is our connection to others. That has been seen more clearly than ever through 2020: we’ve developed new ways to stay in contact with our nearest and dearest, and formed new ways to socially engage and stay connected with others.

Communication is at the core of who we are, be that in written or spoken form. We are all, to a greater or lesser extent, social creatures.

Being able to communicate easily and clearly is often something we take for granted, something we do easily without even thinking with those in our close network.

What happens then when communication becomes more complicated, affected by external elements like other languages or cultural differences?

Are we universally united?

When we meet new people, we generally smile and wave to communicate a greeting, and this holds true for most of the world. But what else can we do that transcends global borders?

Body language is something we rely on heavily when we lack the necessary language skills.

Hand gestures can generally help us, but even then we need to take care not to offend.

  • Making a circle with your thumb and index to indicate agreement is fine in the UK, but highly offensive in Brazil.
  • Giving a thumbs up is a positive sign in the UK but in the Middle East and West Africa is highly offensive.
  • In Spain it’s common to indicate you want two of a drink or order to a barman using the V shape of your index and middle fingers, showing them the back of the hand. Holding your fingers up this way in the UK is an insult.

What about nodding your head in agreement? In Bulgaria and Albania nodding your head indicates disagreement, and to agree you should shake the head from side to side (tricky to do when it’s something that comes so naturally!).

Even when we know different languages and can use them well, we need to understand cultural implications to really understand them.

Quite often people in China will say ‘yes’ when in fact they mean ‘no’. Knowing how to differentiate the different nuances of ‘yes’, including how and when it’s said, if it’s accompanied by any other gestures or body language and who is communicating can make a huge difference and can help avoid potentially critical misunderstandings.

We need to know more than just words: we need to know how to use them and in which contexts if we are to effectively communicate globally. Developing this skill can have a huge impact on so many aspects of both our working and private lives, including aspects such as:

  • our ability to effectively build business relationships
  • engagement with the local culture
  • our ability to effectively negotiate
  • getting to know people for work or pleasure
  • our understanding of the people we’re communicating with
  • our understanding of the places we’re visiting or engaging with

So, what can we do?

  1. Take your time to learn about who you’re communicating with. Embrace different communication styles and keep your eyes and ears open to new ways of doing things.
  2. Pay attention to the language used and learn some basics before you talk to people from other areas of the world or with other mother tongues. Don’t get caught out and grab the opportunity to learn something new with both hands!

Communication is key to everything. We learn to communicate in many ways from a very young age, but we need to remember that we’ll never stop learning. Communicating globally is a new facet we can add to a skill we already have, something we can develop and hone over time. It’s a beautiful gift and tool and one we need to really value. 

If you want to know more about global differences or want help navigating the cultural implications of your work with international clients, book in a discovery call with Kellie at Onno to see how she can help you:

Author: Sarah E Galligan

Corporate social responsibility and communications professional working with great companies for great causes.

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