Honing Your Communication Skills
for an International Audience

See also: Active Listening

Looking to become effective at being an international communicator? It’s time to streamline your skills.

These days we all, in some way, live in an international world. Doing business overseas isn’t just for the high flyers, or those with a career that deals with foreign places. Instead, with the internet and digital communication platforms, we are all one global business community.

From FaceTiming with freelancers in one country, to doing a conference call with a potential client in another country - there are endless calls to communicate with people from across the world in a modern business era.

The question is, which skills do you need to be an international communicator?

Realistically, to be able to truly thrive in an international business career you need a huge range of communication skills. In addition, those skills have to be consistently developed and adapted to a fast-paced international working environment.

By adding those skills to your tool belt and building on them, you give yourself the edge over competitors and secure your chance of being highly successful in your field.

A speech bubble made from green and yellow paper.

Let’s take a closer look at the kind of communication skills you need to develop and refine for an international audience:

Being Multilingual

You can never understand one language until you understand at least two.

Geoffrey Williams

It’s an obvious communication skill to consider when you want to do international business, but which languages are the most useful?

If you know you will be working with a specific part of the world, not only learning the native language, but understanding the different dialects and regional versions of it, will give you the professional edge.

If you simply want to add common languages to your belt that benefit you in global business, some of the most spoken include English, Mandarin, Spanish, German, Portuguese, Arabic, French, Japanese, Russian and Hindi. The great news is that as soon as you have learnt one new language and become bilingual, it is proven that a third additional language, and further languages, are easier to learn.

Being multilingual is useful when doing business, but also if you plan to do voice over work, website design, customer service work, overseas marketing or even simply travelling whilst freelancing. It is the kind of skill that lasts a lifetime, and offers you a huge range of opportunities when it comes to international business. We know plenty of people who do Japanese or Arabic voice over work, for example.

Staying Current

There is never a still moment in the world of global communication. By staying current, aware of different cultural changes, political changes and specific issues in any country you do business with, you ensure your global communication skills are present.

Keeping an Open Mind

When you communicate on a global level, you have to open your mind far beyond your own upbringing, town, country and cultural norms. You have to understand that each and every individual indeed has a cultural background, but they are not necessarily bound by that. You have to be able to be flexible to the individual in each scenario, and remain aware that a person can be vastly different in the way they comfortably do business. They will need to be uncomfortable to some degree to meet you halfway, and you in turn, have to allow yourself to do the same, and possibly more.

Beyond the Words

Communication goes far beyond words, especially with international communication.

Body language, for example, is incredibly important and can be both universal and very specific to different cultures.

For example, holding eye contact in America or England is seen as a sign of confidence and respect. In Asian culture, it could be seen as incredibly disrespectful and brash. Vice versa, a neutral expression could be seen as a person being unfriendly, but they are actually showing respect to you.

Certain gestures are also not universal. A thumbs up in Europe or America tends to mean ‘great’ or ‘great job’ but in the Middle East it can actually be an insult. The ‘OK sign’ is accepted as meaning OK in some cultures whereas in Turkey it is a very nasty insult.

Becoming more literate and flexible with your body language is a helpful skill for doing international business.

Being Ready to Apologise for Getting It Wrong

There can be an attitude in business that suggests you bulldoze through with a pitch or a business meeting despite any awkwardness or issues. Doing this can actually be detrimental in global business communication. You have to be ready to apologise for causing offence, making it clear you did not mean to cause any awkwardness. There’s an element of dropping any ego and putting the other person first, whilst also remaining calm and confident in what you have to offer.

Conscious Listening

Hearing what is being said is different to consciously listening. When there may be all kinds of barriers to communication, you have to consciously listen to every cue, and ask for clarification on details you don’t understand. Rather than passively hearing, you’re taking what you are given and utilising every detail.

Echoing Communication Styles

Having your own communication style is fantastic, but when it comes to international business you have to be open to echoing what is around you. This is especially true with the rhythm of speech you are hearing from others in the meeting. If you are speaking too quickly, you might seem rushed or chaotic. Too slowly and you might seem patronising.
You also need to pay attention to gesturing, speaking back and forth, and facial expressions. By picking up on the cues of those around you, you can quickly understand what is acceptable and what isn’t.

Being Creative

Sometimes communicating with people from other countries involves a high level of creativity and problem-solving to get it right.

You will need to be able to work around communication problems you never knew existed. You will have to be confident enough to think outside the box and present original ideas and solutions.

Having the ability to work around problems will get you a long way with international communication.

Further Reading from Skills You Need

The Skills You Need Guide to Interpersonal Skills eBooks.

The Skills You Need Guide to Interpersonal Skills

Develop your interpersonal skills with our series of eBooks. Learn about and improve your communication skills, tackle conflict resolution, mediate in difficult situations, and develop your emotional intelligence.

How Will You Start to Sharpen Your International Communication Skills?

Whether you want to be an international voiceover artist, or a specialised international business liaison expert, the best place to start is by learning a new language. It opens your mind and your heart to other cultures and other ways of communicating. Over time, you can then add new expertise and truly hone your international communication skills, for a phenomenal career that knows no bounds.

About the Author

Lawrence Blackwell (Larry) has had a varied career in PR and Marketing with responsibility for the marketing department of several SMEs and experience in international organisations. He has developed new marketing strategies with a particular focus on understanding and exploiting multi-lingual campaigns. He speaks French, Spanish and his native English and is a regular contributor to the Matinée Multilingual Blog.