“Before knowing it better, I felt that most Finnish people were quite offensive to me. They don’t use words like “please, thanks, could you, ..” they would just say “ota” [take]. It took me we a while to realize they speak like that within each other also and that it is nothing personal for me.” – Team leader with foreign background, working in Finland
Based on the experiences and backgrounds, preferences and not-reflected habits, giving and receiving instructions might be fundamentally different. Similar to the previous example, it might be perceived rude or offensive one way or another, yet it is not meant like this.
To avoid any unnecessary complications and misunderstanding when giving or receiving instructions, there are some tips for you to look at and implement/practice.
As an employer/team leader/superior/etc.
– Be clear of what you would like to instruct. Only then you can make it clear to others.
– Become aware of what you mean by words/expressions like ‘as soon as possible’, would, could, soon, etc.
– Don’t give more than one instruction at the time.
– Know about your own communication/instruction style. (Check Toolkit’s material Different ways to communicate) Then you can use different communication skills to address the other accordingly.
– Establish rules together with your diverse team, for example about the way instructions are given. In an intercultural setting, it is recommendable to talk about existing rules, the understanding of such and possibly to redefine some in order to include everybody.
– Ensure that your point/task has been understood. Possibly ask, e.g. Do you know what to do? What would you do first? Is everything ok with this task, can I clarify anything for you?
– Become aware of the context this instruction is taking place (written, oral; formal, informal; etc.) and what affect this might have on the understanding of the instruction/request from the other person.
As an international employee
– Understand the way your superior/team leader/ employer/colleague/etc. communicates. Understand your own way of communication (-> Cross ref communication)
– What do words like: Could, would, possibly, soon, need, wonder, etc. mean in the context: Clarify if necessary. For example: To understand correctly, could I repeat what I have understood from your instructions/request? So, do you mean…? Could I check…?
– Communicate with the person who instructs you about a way you would like/not like to communicate instructions/requests. E.g. The way I hear what you are instructing me to do is …. . I am more used/I would prefer
Rule of Thumb: Establish together (person giving instructions, person receiving instructions): How instructions are given? How direct/indirect? How precise? Clarify words that offer room for misunderstanding (soon, as soon as possible, nice, long, etc.) Establish a shared basis of knowledge regarding this topic and act upon it.
A workplace without e-mail conversations is very rare in today’s world; sometimes it is as close as being an equivalent to conversations in some organizations/companies. E-mails have the advantage to reach people in distant places within an instance; to have a written testimonial of the conversation; to have to communicate clearly and directly; etc. As this might be an advantage, it can be a disadvantage at the same time. In global communication issues around e-mail conversations are raised quite frequently.
Let me ask you:
Have you gotten frustrated over an e-mail conversation with a colleague/manager/client/etc.?
Why is this important?
Also written communications are part of an interaction between humans. As established earlier (Cross-references 4 ears) people act differently in different contexts and it is essential to understand and communicate the differences; and more importantly how to want to leverage them. In Email communication essential understandings of etiquettes might encounter differences, such as aspects regarding time, formality, directness, format, general standards and many more.
Therefore it is essential to consider the following: Click on the exercise and tips icon below
Exercise and tips:
What is tough talk? To some people tough/difficult talk is when there is an open conflict and a vital debate about a shared matter. Other people might find it difficult to refuse to a superior/team leader/colleague/etc. an inquiry to do a certain task, to name an example. The scale is large, therefore high sensitivity is required in order to prevent closed doors or broken work relationships.
Why is this important?
In order to have an inclusive working surrounding where all opinions and preferences are respected and taken into account, it is essential to identify what are potential topics/situations/context/etc. that people could get uncomfortable with. How does the employee feel about refusals, or disagreement, complaining or conflict? These are areas essentially important in order to generate a positive, prosperous working-together.
Next, you will find various ideas and tips regarding difficult talk from different perspectives.
When you are the sender:
When you are the receiver:
In an intercultural context you will need various competencies at once, such as empathy, communication skills, listening skills, cultural frame shifting skills, etc. to act agilely in the given situation.
Generally: Applying some of the tips above for everyday communication will build trust and lead to more successful communication between members of the organization.
Furthermore, it is recommendable to understand what “conflict”/ “saying no”/etc. means to each individual.