Working in an international team

door Regina Coeli

Do we all understand the same thing?

If you work in an international team, you have probably noticed how varied your colleagues’ English can be. That might have to do with their actual language skills, but it can also have something to do with the fact that they learnt the language from the perspective of another language and culture. That determines not only their accent, but also the thoughts and feeling associated with words.

If a group is international in its composition, even when everyone hears the exact same sentence, they might have a different understanding of what has been said. Those situations can even prove tricky for native speakers, because for them, the meaning of words is such a given.

This means that it is important to never assume everyone in an international team understands things in the same way. You will need to check whether you have understood others correctly, and the other way around as well. In other words, be careful in your communication.

Here are a few tips for communicating in an international team.

Tip 1: Speak slowly and clearly so you are understandable.

Tip 2: Make use of simple language. Use short sentences and avoid using jargon.

Tip 3: Avoid the use of idiom and expressions—they can end up being taken literally, leading to a fair amount of confusion. Bear in mind that humour is largely culturally determined.

Tip 4: If something is unclear, do not hesitate to ask for clarification. For example:

  • Sorry, I missed that, could you say it again please?
  • Would you mind repeating that?
  • I’m sorry but I don’t understand what you mean.
  • What do you mean by …?
  • Could you explain it in another way?

Or clear things up yourself:

  • No sorry, that’s not what I meant.
  • Maybe I didn’t explain very well/ clearly.
  • Let me explain in another way.

Tip 5: Summarise and ask your counterparts whether your summary is an accurate one.

Tip 6: Use multiple methods to communicate in a team: speak face-to-face, send confirmations by email or send information in advance. In this way, you increase the chances that even if a message is not fully understood the first time, it comes across clearly in the end.

Improving team communication

If you lead an international team, you know that good communication between team members is essential. It forms the basis of effective collaboration. You can try to make clear agreements about this, but you will often achieve the best results by improving everyone’s skill levels.

One way to do this is to take English lessons as a team. In doing so, you create a shared language. Or perhaps it would be enough to boost the skills of just a few colleagues.

Regina Coeli would be happy to take a closer look at your team’s situation and advise you on how we can improve your team’s English communication skills. We support a number of organisations with both team and individual training to reach their goal of improving communication between colleagues. Please feel free to contact us!

Erica Goedegebuure: +31 (0)6 – 31689043


See our range of training offerings for organisations >

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