5 Tips To Better Communication With Overseas Colleagues
For many planners, one of the more enjoyable perks of the job is getting to see the world and getting paid to do so. However, before bags are packed and the event begins, most planners will have to climb several mountains, jump through a few hoops and whip up a few miracles to get to the finish line. To help you do all that, here’s an at-a-glance reminder list of smart strategies to employ when your venue is many time zones, oceans or languages away:
1) Know what time it is.
You’re based in New York, your client’s based in Chicago, your web designer is in Cairo and the venue is in South East Asia. If you’ve got a lot of short-lead deadlines, you better know what time zone all the players are on so you don’t wind up calling in the middle of their night or blow a deadline because you didn’t realize they were a day ahead. There are hundreds of sites to handle this simple but essential job, but my go-to is Time and Date’s World Clock
2) Inconvenience yourself a little…
…and talk when their day starts, to help get the jump on yours. Recently I was working with teams in Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong, a 12-hour time difference for me. To ensure that I spoke with my colleagues first thing, I made the majority of my calls to them between the hours of 8 pm – 11:30 pm New York time. Conversely, they knew they could pick up the phone and call me before they left for the night, at the start of my day (which for the duration of the project was bright and early at 6 am.) Bottom line: for casual, non-conference call conversations, establish a few general time frames when both sides are likely to be reachable. Another tip: Use email time stamps as a general guide to your colleagues’ hours so you have a sense as to whether they’re early birds on the 9-to-5 plan or if they work on a more flexible or night owl schedule.
3) Email anytime, sort of.
Sending emails from the US, late on a Friday afternoon to a venue in Dubai, can be a recipe for, ‘Sorry, I must have missed that,’ because it wound up buried behind 200 other emails that sailed into their inbox over the weekend. Granted, while we may check our emails constantly and on weekends, your foreign colleagues may not, so, as with phone calls, try to send emails in the general vicinity of their normal business hours to help push your e-correspondence further to the top of their cue.
4) Skip the whasssss-uuups.
Working with overseas colleagues is all about communication and the very literal business of understanding each another. True, most of the time, planners work with overseas colleagues who are fluent in English, but it’s important to keep in mind that many of our colloquialisms may not be in their verbal wheelhouse. What’s more, they may be too polite to ask you to define your terms more intelligibly. So, how to keep communications clear? Until you have a better sense of how well they speak and write in English, your best bet is to keep your language simple – speaking a bit more slowly, using shorter sentences. Also keep slang, marketing jargon, heavily bureaucratic, technical, or legalistic catch phrases to a minimum.
5) Brush up their skills – and yours.
In written communications, be it conversational recaps, reminders or requests, also keep language simple and jargon-free. If you’re unsure of the level of comprehension on the receiving end, try adding a translated version of your email to the bottom of your initial emails. Not only will it get your point across in their native tongue, but it will also help familiarize you with the local language, boosting your comprehension of a language you may already have some facility with. I like SDL’s free translation service which has done a fine job of converting my prose into just about any language I’ve ever needed.
And one final thought: always be conscious of differing social mores when doing business abroad. The classic, international business etiquette book series Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands is a great place to start.
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