5 Key Points to Consider When Making Conference Calls across Cultures

In the past, an international corporation’s Customer Inventory Planning was done separately by teams located in its respective regions. Recently, the company decided to merge its Asia Pacific and Japanese planning operations together. Senior advisers from both teams (a Malaysian named May and a Japanese named Kaori) arranged a conference call to discuss their responsibilities, existing processes and suggestions on how to approach the forthcoming planning process for customers located in Asia Pacific and Japan. Regretfully, the call did not end well, as May felt Kaori was rigid and not able to make decisions on her own without consulting her manager while the Kaori felt that May was rude and difficult to communicate with.

In what ways do you think the conference call could have been handled to produce a more favourable outcome? Are there cultural differences to be aware of and prepared for, even between cultures that are relatively similar based on location? The answer is yes.

The rapid expansion of globalization means that people from various countries now need to speak to one another for work purposes, either in person or via the various communication methods that are now available. Add to that the growing increase of operational and support teams in China and India (often due to availability of resources and cost effectiveness), conference calls are now proving to be a necessary mode of communication for most organizations. While the cultural differences between the East and the West may be more apparent, we shouldn’t neglect the cultural differences that can occur between countries of the same region or continent, which we might casually label as culturally the same. Here are some pointers to take note of before your next conference call:

  1. Etiquette in addressing people. Some questions to ask might be, “Are your participants from a hierarchical culture and place value on titles? Does their culture employ polite expressions to use when addressing a person? Do they value small talk or prefer to get right into doing business?” Preparing the answers for these questions will help you say the right words in the right way to keep the conversation amiable.
  2. Accent and speed of speech. Before the call, consider who your fellow participants are and determine if any of them might have a limited grasp of the English language. Choosing to speak at a slower pace encourages comprehension regardless of how thick your accent may be, as will using simple words and enunciating your words clearly. Depending on the circumstances, translation at times may need to be arranged and allotted for within the meeting time frame.
  3. Time management. Anglo cultures tend to follow a strict adherence to time while many Asian cultures have a more relaxed approach to time. To avoid unnecessary frustrations, the meeting invite could include instructions on exactly when the meeting is expected to start, including allotting time for latecomers and breaks in between the call.
  4. Participation. One common occurrence is that certain individuals tend to dominate conversations while others are painfully quiet when prompted for an opinion. To ensure fair participation, have the practice of stating at the beginning of the call (or even before the day of the meeting) that everyone will be given an allotted time to give feedback and in which order they will be allowed to do so. Giving advance notice will help keep the chatty ones at bay while allowing the quiet ones to prepare to share their views.
  5. Decision making ability. At times, a call may require a firm decision to be agreed upon. In our earlier example, both cultures adhere to a top-down approach to decision making but Japanese do so to a larger degree. Understanding the delegation of authority (if any) of your participants will determine if the call will be an informative or decisive one, and help you react accordingly.

Conference calls pose an entirely different challenge to communication as it often excludes visual contact which is key to understanding and interpreting behaviour. As such, comprehending how our own culture affects how we behave and appreciating how others may approach the situation provides us with knowledge that is especially handy during conference calls. Our various cross-cultural training programs can help you achieve the cultural intelligence required to work and communicate effectively with all cultures.

By: Boleh Blogger