I recently worked with a global company. This is a company that has offices around the world. It’s not a company that has affiliates in other countries. It is truly a global company with all business departments represented around the world. Working with the company has required a shift in my mindset around language. It has challenged me at a deep level.
It all started when I was doing phone calls with each person before a 3 day meeting. I wanted to greet people on the phone with “good morning” – after all, the calls were between 4.00-8.00am my time! The first time I did it, my “good morning” was met with silence. Yikes! I had totally forgotten that it was mid afternoon where the other person was calling from!
Lesson One: Think in terms of what time it is for the person to whom I am talking, not where I am sitting. After completing the rest of the calls, several people commented that they really appreciated that I had noticed the time zone difference. Such a little thing, and so important in a global company.
Lesson Two: When we all convened, we had 11 countries and 11 languages in the room. For all except a few of us, English was not the primary language. If English isn’t the primary language, then many of the things we say in English don’t make any sense to others. For example, keeping someone posted may not have the same meaning as keeping someone informed. Or, people working in a global company try to use language and examples that can resonate with those from other countries.
With 11 languages in the room, pace is a factor. If everyone speaks the same language, you can talk fast and be ok. Not so in a global environment. Slowing down was a big shift, especially for a fast talking person like me. This showed up when I mentioned to a colleague that some people were not as participative as others. We all know that this is a common occurrence in every company and in every meeting. In a global company, pace is a major factor. My colleague commented that the pace was too fast for some of the participants. Even though all spoke English as a second language, some were better at English than others. In a global company, it’s critical to respect each person’s language ability and not to assume anything!
One brave woman from a European country (let’s call her Lydia) approached me during the second day and asked me to give her feedback on how she was coming across in the room. I commented that I thought her insights would be important to share with the room. She responded that the conversations were moving so quickly that she couldn’t translate internally fast enough to respond.
Lesson Three: Pace is critical, and slowing down is a must. Lydia and I agreed that I would slow down, and she would participate if and when she felt comfortable. There was a dramatic difference later that day, and it became a big learning for me. That mini conversation created a different level of connectedness with Lydia and a deep respect for her and every other person in the room.
I’ll be working again with that company, and when I do, I’ll approach it much differently. I want everyone to feel respected and to be able to participate. That means that I need to change my views and behaviours (notice the European and Canadian spelling!). I will need to remind myself that it’s different when working in the global environment.