How To Communicate Internationally


There is about a 100 percent possibility that in the course of your day you will be communicating with someone from a different country who has had a different cultural upbringing and who speaks a different first language than you do.

As one of my coaching clients explained, “I was with team members on a call today in which one person was in California and one was in Nepal, and I was in Washington, D.C. I’ve worked with these people for three years, and I’ve never met them.”

According to a 2018 survey, 89% of corporate employees serve on at least one international team and 62% work with colleagues from three or more cultures. As international trade continues, this number will continue to grow.

Knowing how to communicate internationally is imperative if you want to position yourself for better and more opportunities.

How To Communicate Internationally

With so many languages, cultures, and countries (not to mention regions within a country), you may feel daunted by the prospect of communicating well with all your global coworkers, clients, and suppliers. 

What’s the best way to increase effective international communication?

The best way to increase to communicate internationally is to remember that there are more similarities than differences between us and then, to practice basic courtesy. 

In short, give acceptance to everyone no matter where they are from or what language they speak. 

This is not to say you shouldn’t read up on other people’s customs or learn another language. English is still the primary language of business, but learning one of the other business languages can open up doors.

The Similarities In Our Differences

We all think we’re different, but there are more similarities than differences between us, no matter where we’re from. 

What is most universal is most personal. Most everyone:

  • feels not fully understood
  • is the center of their own universe
  • wants to see what they own go up in value all of the time
  • wants to be appreciated, to feel powerful, to appear clever or smart
  • wants to be happy
  • wants to make their children laugh
  • has a dark side, a part of us the world doesn’t see
  • in a time of trouble, will assess their own exposure first then gradually the implications for their friends, their town, the social fabric, and their country

Reminds me of a friend who said to me, “Just like everyone else in the world, I am the smartest, have all the right answers, know what needs to be done, and am the best in the room….oh my, I almost forgot, I am the only one in the room!”

Keeping in mind that the person across the table or on the screen is a human being with dreams, feelings, and values just like you provides a bridge that can help you cross even the trickiest cultural terrain.

The No-Fail Approach To International Communication

There are as many ways to behave toward and with people as there are countries on the earth. You cannot cover every single base, but you can have an approach that works with every single constituent.

In every situation, with every person, you should

  • Accept differences.
  • Be respectful and extra polite in words and tone.
  • Use an appropriate level of formal title: Dr., Professor, Mr.,Mrs., Ms., Madame, Mssr., and so on.
  • Use lots of “pleases” and “thank-yous.”
  • Don’t be loud and pushy.
  • Minimize being overly direct and abrupt.
  • Use straightforward terminology, not big words.
  • Slow down; speak up.

One coaching client said, “My secret to success is to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ in the other person’s language. Even if my pronunciation is clumsy, people appreciate the effort.”

Successful International Communication Is Possible

When you can communicate well across a diverse group, you achieve a higher degree of trust, improve efficiency, and coordinate better with your coworkers. 

It’s worth it to improve your international communication. Fortunately, despite the different rules for different environments, you can learn universal ways of interacting that will work in nearly any situation. 

Treating others with dignity, kindness, and civility will elicit a positive response, and your calculated, thoughtful actions will help you get things done.

Do you want to improve your communication skills or executive presence? I’ve been working with high-level C-Suite executives for over 30 years. Contact me to discuss coaching, or if you have a group of emerging leaders, for a speaking engagement.

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