Help Your Global Talent Succeed and Lead – Cultivate Communication Skills

Guest post by Nancy Vason:
As leaders of global businesses, you draw from a deep well
of talent. You employ engineers, plant managers, economists, IT managers and
marketing directors from all over the world. 
Most are highly educated, technically competent professionals. But are
they effective communicators?
Today, communication effectiveness is judged in part on how
well these professionals express themselves in English. According to the Harvard
Business Review
, English is now the global language of business, and
more and more multinational companies are mandating English as the common
corporate language.
The challenge for your non-native managers is not simply to
speak English with correct grammar, but to speak convincingly and confidently.
A 2011 white
paper
jointly published by the GlobalEnglish Corporation and Human
Capital Institute reported that 70% of global employees are non-native speakers
– and only 7% think they speak English well enough to do their jobs.
The non-native speakers in your company may perform their daily
responsibilities well. But what else do their jobs require? Are they leading
global teams? Are they making presentations to executives? Are they sharing
their ideas on conference calls? Are they debating strategies in meetings? 
If so, they need persuasive communication skills. In fact,
their ability to communicate will determine their future as leaders. Why? Because
leadership requires sharing your vision, forging relationships built on trust, and
convincing others that your ideas have merit.
So let’s look further at this topic and explore two
questions:
  1. What
    communication skills are most critical for non-native speakers?
  2. How
    can you cultivate the communication skills of your global team?
What Communication
Skills Are Most Critical?
From my experience, non-native speakers must be able to
express their ideas clearly, whether in formal presentations or informal
meetings. They need to demonstrate credibility,
connect with their listeners and be confident of their English.
Credibility starts
with having a clear, concise message. Most non-native speakers try to share their
depth of knowledge instead of focusing on the needs of their listeners. When
preparing their remarks, they need to ask: what issue or challenge is important
to my listeners and how will my recommendation address that? Also, what is the
most critical information my listeners need to know? Then they should limit the
discussion to 2-3 key ideas and support them with examples, anecdotes and data.
This keeps the discussion focused and prevents the non-native speaker from
struggling with long explanations.
Connecting with
the listener involves having great eye contact and displaying great passion for
the topic. In business, people trust people who look them right in the eye.
Because of cultural differences, this can be hard for some
non-native speakers. A native Korean with 10+ years in international business recently
shared an example with me. Several years ago, she and her Australian boss interviewed
a gentleman from Korea
for a job. She thought the Korean man answered their questions well, but her Australian
manager disagreed. His impression was that he was not interested in selling his
ideas because he stared at the wall during the conversation. Ultimately, his
lack of direct eye contact cost him the job.
Being confident in speaking
English
is a hurdle for most non-native speakers. If they lack confidence,
they may decline opportunities to speak or hold back during team discussions. The
non-native speaker should not aspire to be perfect, but rather to be
understood. Accents are only a problem when they prevent comprehension of words
and ideas.  To build confidence,
non-native speakers should rehearse their presentations out loud multiple times
before they present. Preparing for questions is even more important. By
anticipating the questions, writing them down in advance, and practicing
answers out loud, the non-native speaker will feel more in control.
How Can You Cultivate
Your Team’s Communication Skills?
As a leader, you set the tone in the way you communicate. Be
sensitive to the challenges non-native speakers face. Provide a supportive work
environment that encourages dialogue, collaboration and professional
development. Reward the expression of thoughts, even if they are not perfectly
stated. Here are a few other ideas:
Start a mentoring
program.
This will allow
non-native speakers to learn from seasoned colleagues. For example, the mentor
might listen to the speaker’s presentations and give feedback on confusing
phrases or mispronounced words. Mentors can also suggest resources and tools to
help the non-native speaker improve English competency. For example in Atlanta, the Georgia Tech Language Institute offers tutors
who can help business people improve their English language skills.
Offer leadership
development programs.
Many global companies have successful programs, and
they reinforce the value international managers bring to the organization. In
some programs, non-native speakers participate in cross-functional teams to
solve problems and present recommendations to senior management. Team
presentations allow managers to showcase their expertise without having to be
the only speaker on stage.  In another
example, a large beverage manufacturer sponsors a global leadership program for
women. It gives participants the opportunity to make persuasive business
presentations to a small group of colleagues, with two executives on hand to
give constructive feedback. 
Encourage your
managers to attend communication skills training programs
. These courses
help participants enhance their verbal skills. Whether the focus is on
presentation skills, negotiation skills, interviewing skills or media training,
the programs typically include relevant practice on camera with feedback from a
coach.  Our company, Speechworks, offers a presentation
skills class specifically for non-native speakers.
Global businesses benefit from having a culturally diverse,
highly talented work force. Non-native English speakers typically have strong
technical and operational skills. But to succeed and to lead, they need to be
persuasive communicators.
You can cultivate these skills within your global company. Be
an advocate for persuasive communication, accurately assess the needs of your
team, and provide opportunities for them to grow and develop. Then watch as
their confidence soars!
About the Author: Nancy
Vason is an executive coach at Speechworks, an Atlanta-based communication
skills coaching firm that helps business leaders connect with audiences and get
results. Through global clients like The Coca-Cola Company, Novelis and Jabil, Nancy helps executives
from many different cultures become confident communicators. She also teaches
Business Communication in the Georgia Tech MBA program, where most of her
international students are non-native speakers. For more information, please
visit www.speechworks.net.