Communication with Foreign Co-Workers on Overseas Assignments

There is no doubt that we are globalizing ourselves and that we are more diverse than before. The United States has become a land of many cultures. Communication has become better through technology and the socialization of the human species. Yet, how can we prepare employees for an overseas assignment? This is something that can be seen in two ways, a structured plan for the assignment itself and the in-depth cultural communication factor.

In an article in the Harvard Business Review, Andy Molinsky and Melissa Hahn write that there are five ways one can succeed on an overseas assignment in a structured way.

  • Have a purpose and a person who can promote that purpose. Having the right person to make this assignment work is quite important, especially in cultural understanding and understanding of the project.
  • Having a close connection to home works well, that way the person overseas doesn’t lose touch with what he or she is doing for the company. A good mentor would work.
  • Communication between the worker and employer needs to be constant for best results.
  • Before leaving, it is ideal to start on talks of how the assignment was beneficial and what was learned.
  • The company can distribute what it learned from that experience.

We often forget that to have a successful assignment overseas, the communication between the employee and the foreign team is crucial. We need to consider cultural, social, and language barriers amongst diversity and work. There is no denying that “…English is now the global language of business.” as mentioned by Tsedel Neeley in her article Global Business Speaks English. But this doesn’t really help many. My interview with Dr. Joann Jones, Executive Director – Leadership Development for Cummins, led to these tips.

  • Prepare the assignment ahead of time so that everyone working on the assignment can understand the assignment.
  • Know that there will be a need for clarification as language and cultural barriers are present.
  • If possible, know the language and culture of where one may stay can improve results.
  • An ending follow-up on the assignment will be helpful, especially a written documentation of the progress and results. This may help clarify any miscommunications.

Making sure an overseas assignment is completely worked out is the main goal, but knowing the cultural factor and having a structured plan can lead to a successful assignment.


By Alvaro Garcia, Business Major – IUPUC

Oversea Conflict

Going overseas can be stressful for many people, especially if it is for a business assignment. Even though it may be stressful there are many ways to try to help make it less stressful. A good way to help with this stressful situation is to be prepared for talking with foreign co-workers. There are many ways to prepare for this like, knowing which country the assignment is in, the length of the assignment, and learn some about their culture.

Upon getting tasked to an assignment in a foreign country, first figure out which country it will be in. Knowing which country the assignment will be in will help to break the language barrier if there is one. The co-workers may speak the same language or they may speak the one common in their country. Knowing what language your co-workers speak will help to know if there will be a language barrier that could cause problems. If there is going to be a language barrier, then the best thing to do would be to learn more about their language. When learning another language some research is going to have to be done in order to efficiently learn the language. The amount of their language that would need to be learned would have to depend on the length of the assignment.

The length of the assignment can determine a lot about how prepared a person needs to be when going on an overseas assignment. If a person is only going to be there for about a week or two then some language should be learned. For this short amount of time, a person should be prepared enough that the language will not be a problem for them to speak and understand, but the person would not need to become fluent in the language. However, if the person is going to be on the assignment for a year or more, then the language should be more familiar to them before they leave.

The knowledge of the culture of the country is very important to know in order to be prepared for an overseas assignment. Knowing the culture is very important especially if the person has to do any public speaking. Some cultures can have different meanings to things than other countries. For instance, in the United States the cuss words are different from the cuss words of Great Britain. Therefore, something that would mean nothing in the U.S. can cause some conflict if unknowingly said in Great Britain. Another big example would be hand gestures, like the okay hand symbol. This is normal everyday behavior in the U.S. that means okay, but in other countries this symbol would be ‘flipping someone off’. To be prepared for speaking to foreign co-workers knowing the culture is a big one to ensure that there would not be any conflict or awkward situations.

Being unprepared for a business assignment overseas can be very stressful. The best way to reduce stress during this situation is to be prepared for everything that could make the assignment stressful, like a gesture that could ruin the speech that will land the company a new business in another country. Overall, an employee can best be prepared by knowing where, how long, and the culture of the business assignment.

By Heather Hehe, English Major-IUPUC

Miscommunication That Can Lead to Malpractice in Hospitals

Did you know that the leading cause for malpractice in hospitals is miscommunication?

According to the research that I have done, there are five key risk factors as to why miscommunication can happen in hospitals; Culture/ Ethnicity, Beliefs, Literacy, and Gender.

Culture and Ethnicity are major reasons why there is miscommunication in hospitals. “In 2008, according to the U.S. Census, nearly 20% of people living in the United States spoke a different language.” (Quan. Introduction) Though, that does not seem like a lot of people, think of how many people speak a foreign language in today’s world. This is a problem for hospitals and medical professionals because there is a language barrier between the two. If you have a Spanish speaking patient, and an English speaking doctor, chances are there is going to be some type of miscommunication. This is where it is necessary for hospitals to have language translators. Whether it be the medical staff learning the major languages that are in the United States, or by hiring immigrants who know English well enough that the medical staff can understand what the patient needs or wants.

Socioeconomics is another risk for miscommunication in hospitals that can cause malpractice. A patient’s beliefs can determine what a doctor can and cannot do for them. Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe in blood transfusions, this can cause a lot of miscommunication and misunderstanding for hospital staff. Even if it means, letting them die, the doctor has to respect the patient’s beliefs. Ways that this can be dealt with is for the doctor to understand the culture itself. If the doctor is trying to give the patient something they do not believe in, that is going against who they are. Medical staff should always be understanding and caring even if what the patient believes in hurts them more than helps.

Does every patient understand medical terms? More than likely, absolutely not. If every patient understood medical terms, they would not receive a prescription, and wonder, “Now, what’s this for?” This is where miscommunication falls into place. When patients do not know their medical terminology, and do not ask the doctor questions when it is appropriate, things can get sticky. Not knowing what you are taking, can hurt you rather than help. A solution for this maybe to require students in high school to take classes to understand these words. An etymology class would be great for this. Advisors at my high school suggested this class for students who planned on going into the medical field.

Many people do not understand that there is a difference between sex and gender. Sex refers to biological, or what you are born with. Such as, your external sex organs. Gender is the characteristics that a society or culture defines as masculine of feminine. When a patient is a male, but dresses as a female, this can cause miscommunication between the patient and staff. One, they do not know what to call this patient. And, if they did not know what sex the patient was and gave him a medicine they would typically give a female, this can lead to a problem. In order to understand these kinds of people, is to actually get to know them before prescribing them medicine. Even if the patient checked off on the patient form that he was a she, it is still important to figure out who the doctor is really dealing with.

All of the things that I have talked about lead to the malpractice if miscommunicated. My suggestions will hopefully, one day, be a thing in the past and we will not have to worry about miscommunication between patients and medical staff.

Works Cited Page’s_Witnesses_and_blood_transfusions

Cultural Diversity in the Workplace

The following is an article written by X204 Business Communication Adjunct Lecturer Robin Fritz for, the online business portal for the Houston Chronical:

Overview – Thanks to technology and faster transportation, the world is growing smaller every day, leaving plenty of opportunities for businesses to expand their products, services and staffs on a global scale.  But with a more global business environment comes a host of new challenges, not the least of which is learning to function in a multicultural workplace comprised of people with widely differing backgrounds.  For businesses with a very diverse workplace, successfully juggling a multicultural staff can make or break the bottom line.

What is Culture? – Culture is an interwoven system of customs, morals, traits, traditions and values shared by a group of people or a society.  It provides people with a common heritage, and it links them through shared experiences and joint learning.  Cultures exist on scales both large and small, ranging from large cultures extending to countries and regions, such as the American culture or Middle Eastern culture, to such small and distinct cultures as that of Amish communities in Pennsylvaniato the Basque culture in southern France.  Moreover, cultures provide people with a sense of self identity and community, and it greatly influences their actions within the workplace.

What is Diversity? – But, not all cultures are the same.  For instance, some cultures operate on a more “low-context” level than others.  People raised in low-context cultures tend to be very literal – focusing on the spoken word – and they’re more often analytical and action oriented.  Low-context employees also tend to use linear logic in the workplace, for example proceeding from point A to point B to point C and so on.  Additionally, business managers raised in low-context cultures strive to be efficient and professional, and they treat time as a very limited commodity.  North America and Western Europe are examples of low-context cultures.

Embracing Cultural Diversity – High-context cultures, on the other hand, tend to be more contemplative and intuitive, and workers raised in such cultures often treat time as an endless resource.  Additionally, in such cultures, spiral logic is more common, with individuals circling indirectly around a topic, considering it from all angles and viewpoints instead of head on.  Whereas Americans may be very literal, high-context workers pay attention to more than just the spoken word, believing that all aspects of communication – body language, facial expressions, etc.  – carry as much meaning as the actual words themselves.  Examples of high-context cultures include Far Eastern, Middle Eastern and Hispanic cultures.

Encouraging Cultural Diversity – In today’s global economy people from both low-context and high-context cultures are interacting in multicultural workplaces like never before and, as people are affected both visibly and invisibly by their cultures, conflict can result from the inevitable misunderstandings.  For example, employees from high-context cultures such as China, Mexico or Japan may prefer to imply no with their body language rather than saying no in actual word form.  Literal Americans and Canadians, however, often overlook these subtle implications and may fail to understand. 

To overcome multicultural misunderstandings, smart business managers will take the time to learn about and understand the differing cultures represented within their workplace, and will train their employees from different cultures on how best to communicate with each other in the workplace.

To Agree or Disagree? Apparently, It Depends on the Chromasomes

Below is a link to an interesting article from Inside Indiana Business regarding a University of Notre Dame study.

Not another double standard!

 The finding? “Disagreeable” men advance in the workplace while “disagreeable” women do not. 

According to the study, when men react in a disagreeable fashion, it’s because they’re viewed as being tough.  But not so with the opposite sex.  Disagreeable women are viewed as control freaks.

Can you say “Martha Stewart” everyone?  I think you can.

The article goes on to say that the “way women communicate their demands matters more than it does for men.”

Which is not exactly a news flash to any woman who’s labored away in the workforce for the last 30 or 40 years, but we’ll give it to them.

Read on for more: