Communication Code Switching: Keep it Simple vs Tell Me More

The end of the year presents an opportunity to connect with clients and colleagues with holiday wishes, a look back at the past year, and a look forward to 2o23! Everyone is busy this time of year so thoughtful communication is key.

Keep Employees Engaged and Stay Top-of-Mind with Clients Globally

Should messages be short and concise to accomplish tasks faster? Or should they be longer and more detailed to engage employees and strengthen relationships with clients at home and around the world? It may be “Happy Holidays” at the end of a two-sentence email in the US, but an elaborate paragraph with well wishes for yourself and family from a client in Brazil.

Culture plays an important role in the way we share not only the holiday greetings but convey thoughts, give feedback, resolve conflicts, and present and ask for information. Writing and reading culture-adjusted messages is a great investment to further develop trust, strengthen relationships, and continue successful partnerships with clients and employees both at home and abroad.

With Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa upon us, and Ramadan on the horizon, it is a good time to practice communication style switching to reach colleagues and customers in different geographies and to recognize and further hone one’s own skills. Depending on the context and situation, we frequently fluctuate between different communication styles.

Communication Goals are Similar Across Cultures…

However, the mode of communication and initial focus differs. Many cultures start with the exchange of important information which does not require a prior relationship whereas others spend time on relationship-building first and information sharing second.

For example: the United States, Australia, Israel, and The Netherlands tend to place great importance on an individual’s ability to speak articulately and communicate precisely. Perceptions of effectiveness and trust are based on direct communication and quick task completion. When engaging with clients and partners with such preferences you may want to consider the functional nature of the messages, which typically are:

  • shorter and straight to the point
  • explicit, with more open criticism and opportunities to debate and disagree

On the other hand, Japan, France, India, and Brazil value a person’s ability to “read between the lines” by providing more details and minding nonverbal and contextual cues. Building trust is based on maintaining face and adhering to implicit rules of hierarchy. When engaging with clients and partners with such preferences you may want to consider the engagement nature of the messages, which typically are:

  • longer, subtle, and can weave around the point
  • implicit, with attention given to harmony, with no direct criticism or feedback

The Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw famously said, “the simple biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” Whether our communication preference is to start with a task completion or relationship building, being able to understand and communicate in different styles is a critical skill for any global mobility professional, client, or member of a global team.

Watch Christina Miller, Manager of Global Client Solutions, discuss Diversity & Communication Across Cultures here! 

IOR Intercultural Solutions