Communication with Foreign Co-Workers on Overseas Assignments

There is no doubt that we are globalizing ourselves and that we are more diverse than before. The United States has become a land of many cultures. Communication has become better through technology and the socialization of the human species. Yet, how can we prepare employees for an overseas assignment? This is something that can be seen in two ways, a structured plan for the assignment itself and the in-depth cultural communication factor.

In an article in the Harvard Business Review, Andy Molinsky and Melissa Hahn write that there are five ways one can succeed on an overseas assignment in a structured way.

  • Have a purpose and a person who can promote that purpose. Having the right person to make this assignment work is quite important, especially in cultural understanding and understanding of the project.
  • Having a close connection to home works well, that way the person overseas doesn’t lose touch with what he or she is doing for the company. A good mentor would work.
  • Communication between the worker and employer needs to be constant for best results.
  • Before leaving, it is ideal to start on talks of how the assignment was beneficial and what was learned.
  • The company can distribute what it learned from that experience.

We often forget that to have a successful assignment overseas, the communication between the employee and the foreign team is crucial. We need to consider cultural, social, and language barriers amongst diversity and work. There is no denying that “…English is now the global language of business.” as mentioned by Tsedel Neeley in her article Global Business Speaks English. But this doesn’t really help many. My interview with Dr. Joann Jones, Executive Director – Leadership Development for Cummins, led to these tips.

  • Prepare the assignment ahead of time so that everyone working on the assignment can understand the assignment.
  • Know that there will be a need for clarification as language and cultural barriers are present.
  • If possible, know the language and culture of where one may stay can improve results.
  • An ending follow-up on the assignment will be helpful, especially a written documentation of the progress and results. This may help clarify any miscommunications.

Making sure an overseas assignment is completely worked out is the main goal, but knowing the cultural factor and having a structured plan can lead to a successful assignment.

 

By Alvaro Garcia, Business Major – IUPUC

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