Effective Communication: The “It” Factor for Diverse Teams

One of the biggest challenges in any organization is effective communication.  It is a skill that has to be learned by each member of the organization for communication to be effective.  A lot goes into whether communication is effective or not, including knowing your audience, using the right medium, understanding and respecting differing communication styles, and learning the best timing for communication.  None of these are easy.  They take time and practice to develop and to top it off every organization is different in their expectations for these areas.  Even communication savvy newcomers must start from scratch in learning the rhythm and methods of communication in a new organization. The cost of getting this wrong can be tremendous.  According to a study conducted by SHRM, even a small company with less than 100 employees can lose $420,000 in communication errors. These errors not only stem from the obvious problems of lost revenue and increased expenses when team members are not communicating effectively, but it often leads to a high cost in lost productivity and can even lead to higher turnover costs.

Effective teams are an organization’s greatest assets.  They will build each other up, elevate success, know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and work together on projects to amplify the strengths of others, and they will communicate well.  Unfortunately, most teams don’t have this kind of synergy.   The biggest area that supervisors would agree could be improved is in communication among team members.  The problem is the response is generally “Why don’t you just communicate?”  instead of taking the time to understand the reasons why communication might be failing in the first place.  Team dynamics place a large role in how people will communicate with each other.  This will include personal communication styles, sensitivities, personalities, strengths and weaknesses, and even more in cultural differences.  Most of us have seen communication breakdowns among teams that are largely linguistically and culturally homogenous so imagine the amplification of including our cultural and linguistic differences in communication.

Anyone who has ever communicated with someone who speaks another language knows that language barriers create tension in communication.  You both know what you need the other person to know but struggle to communicate it in the language of the other.  Individuals who do not speak the same language as their coworkers can be alienated because they cannot participate as easily and freely as their teammates.  In addition, if an individual does not have an understanding of a language they may rely on Google translate or other tools to find the right words to say. Unfortunately, these services cannot provide context, correct phrasing, or even regional differences in communications and end up being fraught with communication errors that can frustrate the situation further.

Another important reminder is that someone’s cultural background will have a big impact on how they communicate with others.  In some cultures, pausing frequently for feedback is a sign of respect to the other party where in other cultures this may be a sign that the individual does not know the material they are presenting or sharing.  There are thousands of examples out there of communication breakdowns when one culture does not understand the communication styles and trends of another.  Whole business deals can go downhill when those styles and values are not understood by one or both parties.

In a workplace that is growing ever more diverse by the day, how do we get our teams to effectively communicate regardless of language and cultural barriers, personality differences, and differing styles of communication?  Below are 4 strategies for increasing effectiveness in communication:

  1. Provide translation and interpretation services for any employee with a significant language barrier. Many organizations are reluctant to provide these services because they believe it will be too expensive.  I’m not suggesting you hire an interpreter to follow an employee around all-day, every day.  In fact, many employees might find that insulting.  My suggestion is that any critical documents be translated into the employee’s native language.  How can we expect an employee to follow critical policies and procedures or to understand important updates if they cannot understand them fully?  The bottom line is you shouldn’t.  In addition, during important meetings like staff meetings, performance evaluations and discussions, critical one-on-one meetings with a direct supervisor, and trainings, provide an interpreter for that employee.  It’s the best way to ensure the employee understood all critical information presented.
  2. Consider communication training. You might get further by bringing in a guest speaker, finding some online courses, or providing other training materials that discuss effective vs non-effective communication in the workplace.  Often, unless someone has been trained, they may not even realize they are lacking in one or more areas that are causing communication breakdowns on the team.  Investing in resources and trainings can have a tangible effect in the decrease in the approximate $420,000 in loss due to miscommunication.
  3. Understand why communication breakdowns are happening. We can’t fix problems if we don’t know why the problem is.  In the case of communication, it’s important to understand why the communication breakdown is happening.  Is it culture or language related?  Is it because of a lack of understanding and respect of different communication styles?  Is it related to the medium of communication?  Ask yourself and your team to provide feedback on where they are seeing mishaps in the communication process.  When you know the cause of the breakdown you can set expectations around it and provide training on why we need to adhere to these expectations for team communications going forward.  We are never all going to be on the same page 100% of the time, but if we can set clear expectations for communication and ensure our teams understand why we are setting those expectations we can eliminate a lot of communication breakdowns.
  4. Be visual. We all learn in different ways and we have already discussed the breakdowns that occur due to cultural and language barriers.  Providing more visual communications may be more clear, direct, concise and easier to understand.  In addition, because visual communications tend to be more direct and concise there are generally less problems related to communication styles and personal differences.  Demonstrate as much as possible.  Relying more on showing vs telling can be a great tool to keep miscommunication to a minimum.

Effective communication can change an organization’s culture for the better.  It is vital that we teach our teams how to communicate effectively especially when we work with teams that may have language and cultural barriers.  Figure out the best ways to overcome these deficiencies and you are guaranteed to have a large impact in your organization.  There are so many hidden business costs of not encouraging and promoting a culture of open, effective communication across diverse teams.  As human resources managers or supervisors, you have the direct ability to change an entire company culture and increase profits by taking miscommunication seriously and creating a plan for change!

-Nicole Parker, Employee Growth and Organization Manager

I Wanted To Take The Time To Thank You For Your Amazing Services, Both Tom And Hayley Were Tremendous Help Onsite And Even Prepping For It. Looking Forward To Doing Business With You Guys In The Future.

D. Henriquez

I have had wonderful interpreters from LTC in the past, who have done a great job providing precise and accurate interpretation. Ms. Li, however, goes far above and beyond what is expected. I’m so very grateful for her exceptional service to both this family and to ZCS.

Director of Student Services

Thank you so much to all of you for this workshop, I absolutely loved all the information you shared and will definitely continue to address cultural differences in class.

French Instructor

It was the 3rd class with Kathy today. She is the best English trainer I’ve ever met. Her lessons really work good. So far I have nothing I need to ask you.

Nissan student from Japan.

The ongoing lessons have helped break up the routine of quarantine and more importantly, a source of learning and personal improvement during these extraordinary times.

Jasmin (Student in Mexico City)

Thank you. I appreciate what you do to help our Company succeed with better communication for our fellow employees.

Director of Human Resources – Staffing Company

Gabi was afraid to tackle speaking, until we just starting talking. She has now put out a yoga video with her speaking English. She will teach this class twice a week.

Maggie (Teacher in Atlanta, GA)

I Really Have Appreciated The Classes With Nancy – She Is Wonderful Teacher And I Was Very Motivated To Learn More (And Always Felt Badly When I Struggled Because She Inspires One To Want To Be/Do Better). I Am Very Appreciative Of Having Had This Opportunity To Work With All Of You. It Is One Of The Very Best Language Classes I Have Taken In Years.

A. West

Kazuko Is A Wonderful Teacher And A Super Sweet Person. Thank You For Your Services And Timely Responses In Everything. I Plan To Recommend Ltc To Any And Everyone I Know Interested In Language Learning. Thank You!

J. Brogan

Thank you so much for your interpretation service – it has been a blessing to work with you and has been so helpful in a meaningful way!

Current ASL Client

I can say only that Ruth is an amazing teacher. I am absolutely satisfied with our classes. Thank you so much for your attention.

Language Training Student

Overall, I Thought The Course Was Fantastic. I Feel Like I Learned A Lot And Improved Significantly. Astrid Is A Great Professor. She Took The Class Seriously And Made It Enjoyable. She Did A Great Job Of Recognizing Everyone’s Weaknesses And Helping Us Improve On Them. She Focused On Improving Our Grammar While Also Keeping The Class Conversational. The Lessons Were Well Prepared And Focused On Areas We Needed To Learn, Not Just By-The-Book. It Felt Like The Class Was Tailored To The Student’s Abilities. I Am More Than Satisfied.

K. Corrigan

I Appreciate Your Qualified Language Training Program Very Much. You Made It Possible To Improve My Knowledge In The English Language In A Lot Of Ways: A Significant Increase Of Vocabulary, Repetition And Consolidation Of Grammar And Practice The English Language By Using It In Conversations During Every Lesson. I Am Very Thankful For All They´ve Done And I´ll Always Recommend Your Institution In The Future.

C. Muth

Thank You For All Of Everyone’s Help With Fumiya. We Have All Seen Him Grow With The Ability To Communicate On The Daily Tasks. I Will Definitely Keep You On My Contacts In Future Situations Thank You Again Have A Great Day.

J.

Juliana is even more than an amazing Portuguese teacher but also a cultural expert and a very lovely person. I will really miss her a lot…

Portuguese Student

Thank you for organizing these workshops for teachers, we learn so much from each other and grow to be better instructors.

Language Training Instructor

I’m so grateful to have you interpreting these important and complex issues for our student!

Current ASL Client

I thoroughly enjoy working with him. He has all the proper material and the patience. our classes are very instructive and he doesn’t waste time.  Alvaro has been really good at being able to construct the pieces and then put them in place so that it all comes together and becomes usable. 

Spanish student

Thank you both very much for all you do. This translation project will go incredibly far in informing many of our Veterans and their families, on the important facts and information surrounding our current pandemic.

EEO Specialist (Equal Employment Opportunity)

I Enjoyed Studying With LTC. I Am Grateful For The Great Work With Ana And Her Professionalism To Customize Themes And Her Support In My Daily Life. I Feel More Comfortable With My Language.

D. Triviño

The Classes Have Been Great. My Knowledge Has Increased Tenfold, Thanks To My Classes And Personalized Curriculum. The One-On-One Nature Of The Classes Ensures That Learning Is Catered To You.

K. Singh

The LTC Is The Best English Training Compared To My Previous Language Training Experience Because They Really Understand What I Needed And The Important And Suitable Materials Useful To Apply At My Work. They Give Me Confident To Speak In English And My Writing Is Improving.

D. Sriyunilawati

I Hope All Is Well. I Wanted To Follow Up Regarding The Translating Last Weekend. The Gentleman Helping Us Was Fantastic. He Was The Epitome Of Customer Service And Was So Knowledgeable. He Is The Biggest Asset You Have At Your Company.

Anonymous

I really LOVE my Portuguese classes and Juliana is TERRIFIC… I never had a teacher as great as Juliana, she is amazing and it is teaching me not only to talk in Portuguese but also about the Brazilian culture that is helping me a lot to understand the way they communicate…

Student in Mexico

I would like to commend Catherine Thille for her professionalism. The sessions were always on time and well structured.

French Student

The Classes With Katelyn Are Amazing. I Am Very Happy To Have Her As My Professor. She Is An Amazing Teacher And An Excellent Person. I Am Learning A Lot From Her. She Is Very Patient, Responsible, Punctual, Very Clear, And With Great Experience Teaching. She Is Helping Me A Lot To Improve My English.

Anonymous

Our ENL (English and a New Language) team refers to her as a superhero and it’s no joke—she is truly amazing! Kitty does so much more than just interpret our conferences. She is someone who understands how school works and who can give us important cultural context, which is incredibly valuable.

Director of Student Services

My Classes With Connie Have Been Excellent. I Would Even Go So Far As To Say That They Have Exceeded My Expectations.

M. Bush

Thank You So Much, I Really Enjoy My Classes With Joyce I Love Her She Is Very Nice Teacher.

J. Nolaya

On behalf of Freedom House, I would like to sincerely thank you for you and your team’s services today. Your presence helped us to ensure that the event went smoothly and that all of the attendees were able to participate. Thank you so much!

Freedom House

I Would Recommend Ltc To Other Global Companies Requiring Interpretation Services. During Our Event, The Performance Of Ltc Made Me Feel At Ease Which Allowed Me To Focus My Attention On Other Aspects Of The Event. I Believe That When You Work With Ltc, You Will Receive A Professional And Efficient Team Of People Who Will Do Everything In Their Power To Deliver Excellent Service.

D. Hayden

Their phone interpretation service is a very easy and convenient service for us to use when we are seeing patients in the office. Douglas Price is a great person there and is very good at communicating with our practice and helping us with anything we need. Great company!

Practice Manager

I appreciate you, Anya and Lauren for leading the training. It was very beneficial and I got to immediately use some of the material in my class.

Language Training Workshop Teacher

We meet virtually now. He even gave me a cooking lesson….he tried his best to do it in Japanese but we ended up doing most of it in English ????. While I may have learned less words, I certainly got to learn how to make tempura!!

Patrick (Happy Student in Tokyo)

I cannot express enough great things about this experience. Jeancois was absolutely fantastic- professional, flexible, and dynamic- qualities I have found that some interpreters don’t always demonstrate when working with the pediatric population.

Bilingual Professor

I have to say that Karen has been an amazing teacher. She is very kind and always is searching the way to explain me everything. Always works in her class in advance. Long story short she is great.

Student from Mexico learning English

This Year Went Very Well. The Interpreters Were There On Time Every Day And Very Helpful To Catherine. I Did Not Have To Think Twice About Their Service. Thank You.

C. Carol

Thanks Wendy for all your help! You are a terrific manager. What a difference between my GLobal LT experience and working with you!!

Teacher

Several months of training with Judith passed very quickly. It was interesting, the atmosphere was great, I will miss our lessons!

Project Management Employee

Joseph was an excellent instructor. He was very dedicated to teaching me the language skills I needed for my upcoming assignment.

Student from Government Program

I Really Enjoyed My Time With Christine, She Is Amazing, As I Told You She Helped Me A Lot Improving My Conversation Skills. The Classes Were Really Dynamics\ And I Never Felt Like I Was In A Strict Class. I Want To Say Thank You Again And I Hope In The Future To Take The Training Again. I Will Recommend Ltc With My Venezuelan And Latin Friends.

F. Inciarte

When Covid hit we were cautious allowing anyone but the patient in the office and this is a wonderful helping hand in the matter.

Interpreting Location Manager