How to Best Manage Multicultural & Multilingual Meetings

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The importance and difficulties of knowing how to communicate with people with different languages and cultures

It is no secret that communicating with people from other countries has become more and more frequent. First because it’s getting easier but also (or at least one can hope) because it’s being recognized as something necessary. If we focus on business for instance (we could do the same with school, research, etc.) we can easily see that these relationships offer several advantages that also are impossible to obtain when dealing with people from a single country:

• Reaching new markets through export (contact with foreign customers, distributors…)

• Reducing costs or increasing a product’s quality through import (contact with foreign suppliers, with government agencies from different countries…)

• Benefiting from new ideas, new skills, new sources of knowledge and experience by working with international teams (contact with the foreign members, locally or remotely)

• Etc.

These people however often have a different mother tongue and cultural background from us – two very important things to remember when trying to communicate in the best possible way. After all, getting one’s message through isn’t always easy when speaking the same language and sharing the same culture (how many times have we thought we were understood only to find out that the results aren’t the ones we expected? How many times our explanations can’t seem to be understood despite their simplicity? How many times do we experience difficulties in understanding a question to be able to answer in a clear and precise manner?), but it becomes downright difficult when we add differences in the languages spoken, a common language with various levels of mastery (for example natives on one side but not on the other, or a language that is nobody’s mother tongue with each person having his or her own level of mastery) along with different cultures (various expectations, ways of communicating, ways of speaking, etc.).

In order to make full use of the advantages that come with having international contacts, one needs to know how to handle the difficulties related. This article is here for precisely this purpose. It lists several aspects one should pay attention to during meetings that gather people from different cultural contexts and speaking different languages along with a couple of tips on how to best manage the meeting to facilitate communication and ensure the message goes through (note that a significant part of the challenges and tips listed here are also valid in other situations where communication proves difficult).

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