Take the 2-minute tour ×
The Workplace Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for members of the workforce navigating the professional setting. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I am working in IT industry. The company I am working is operating on multi-national and multiple time zones with different set of people.

I am from rural India background and native language is other than English. Now in order to succeed in my current role i have to have highly refined communication skills. My communication skills are average enough and not that great. I am facing tough situation while communication occurs on telephone where I have to take the help of verbal communication only. I want to improve my skills seriously. I need suggestions

Following are my observations.

I can convey the message what I would like to. But my sentence framing and sentence ordering and structure of speech is not that great. When I write mail the first draft is a kind of OK. When I review I found some areas of improvement and I edit and I make it better. Again I review, I improve and I make it perfect. But while speaking I have to deliver the speech first time only and it should be spontaneous. How should I improve my speech and ability to construct speech perfectly, spontaneously and at single instance? What kind of exercises and practices and habits I have to develop? Does any sites and blogs will helpful regarding this.

And the next thing is to understand the true and exact meaning of the other people speech and message. Some times I feel that I understood completely how ever actually I understood some portion of the message only. When I next time hear I understand completely. This happens with while I am reading books also. First time I understand a portion of it. When I read second time I understood completely. How can I develop ability to understand the meaning completely at first time itself?

Please suggest to overcome these issues in the communication and achieve highly refined communication. I know it takes decent amount of time to reach that level. Mean while what are the temporary work arounds so that I can not cause communication related issues at work place.

share|improve this question
    
when handling the calls, do you have an option to communicate in writing "in parallel"? I mean, when you talk to someone by phone, can you also use chat / messenger? Your prior question mentioned "IM" –  gnat Nov 29 '12 at 15:36

8 Answers 8

up vote 20 down vote accepted

I am on the other side of this - as the English-speaking person who has to frequently deal with people who are not native English speakers, I can offer some observations.

The ones who communicate best ask questions and reframe what I have said into their own words to check to see if they understood me. The people who I have the most difficulty with are the ones who simply agree with whatever I said or who say nothing. Almost inevitably, they are the ones who go in the wrong direction because they didn't understand.

I don't care if your English is perfect, I care about whether I think you understood what I was talking about or that what you are talking about makes sense in my business context. As one of my coworkers put it one day "If he doesn't have any questions about our database structure, he clearly doesn't understand it." We are all dealing with complex systems and complex, and sometimes downright strange, business rules. There are always questions to ask.

Follow up is critical as well. An email after the call stating what you think was decided can go a long way towards making sure you have the same interpretation as the people on the other end of the phone.

Sometimes it seems clear when we are discussing it, but later you start to wonder, "but what about..." This kind of thing happens to all people no matter what their native language. When a new questions occurs to you or a consideration we hadn't discussed, then please contact me and ask about it. Sometimes you won't even see the issue until you are coding (if you are a developer). I know that has happened to me. Very few of us will get upset when someone calls us again or emails us with more questions. We all want the project to go well. Sometimes, when people don't speak a language fluently, they may feel as if asking further questions will make them look as if they don't speak the language well enough and thus will be perceived negatively. But what it really does is give me more confidence in your communication abilities.

share|improve this answer
3  
Thanks @HLGEM. Your tips are helping me :) –  vehitha Nov 30 '12 at 2:19
    
I also want to point out that if I ask you to repeat something it may not mean that I think your English is bad, it may mean that I am having trouble hearing you. If there is a lot of background noise or a bad phone connection or if someone has a mild hearing loss, a voice may be very hard to hear, especially a soft one. When someone feels a bit self-concious he tends to assume that the thing he is self-concious about is the problem. It may not be. –  HLGEM Nov 30 '12 at 22:49
2  
This is so true. Having worked myself with people in India frequently I see a huge cultural issue with what you describe in your second paragraph. The biggest problem for me with working with non-native English speakers (I am a native english speaker), particularly from India, is when your words go into a black hole of "uh huh" or "yes" or "got it" and you have no way of knowing if you were understood or not. Even worse is when you nearly KNOW it was not understood yet you receive no feedback. –  enderland Dec 2 '12 at 19:22
    
+1 Especially for asking questions and reframing. Don't leave a conversation wondering if you understood what the other person was saying, ask to make sure! And I'll add that sometimes reframing helps the OTHER person understand what they're saying (and how they're saying it) better, so it's a two-way street. In helping yourself you're helping them. –  sheepeeh Dec 19 '12 at 16:04

We are in the same boat. I am a non-native English speaker working in an IT industry and occasionally find myself on the phone with vendors discussing various product details and requirements. I do struggle with the correct term from time to time but overall I think I am able to get the idea across. I benefited from the following techniques which I use regulary:

  • Learn to speak the IT language: every industry and every company have certain expressive terms like 'product infrastructure' 'security implementation' 'Sandbox release' 'regression testing' 'redundant or Highly available systems'. The reason I mention these things is that many times I know what I want to say but without the proper term, it's difficult to explain so learn the terms.
  • Take notes: become an avid note taker in all meetings. I always record the date, meeting attendees and meeting subject. In one corner of my note page, I always list the words which I don't know, any technology references which I am not familiar with, all discussion items (and certain terms -see above). After the meeting, I look up what I didn't know and write it down.
  • Prepare, prepare, prepare: if the meeting is to discuss a delivery or system requirements, prepare a list of questions and any discussion items you have in mind. This will help you in phrasing your questions in the most understandable way.
  • Take any supplementary material with you to a meeting. I keep all my notes in one notebook which typically include 1-2 months of notes. I take any requirements or details with me to the meeting.
  • Don't hesitate to follow up with an e-mail after the meeting discussing any pointers you couldn't explain fully in the meeting.

Good luck. This will help you out in technical communications. I am still working on non-technical communications :-)

share|improve this answer
4  
Love the answer. Would add one thing - reframe statements for important points. Even native English speakers do this, and it helps with clarifying tremendously. When someone describes a big problem or task taht you need to be part of, take careful notes and then say "Let me make sure I understand..." and restate the issue in your own words. They may not be perfect sentences, but it will give the other person a chance to say "you missed this..." Also - get an opportunity to practice speaking about technical issues with someone who will offer you critique. Preferably someone on your team. –  bethlakshmi Nov 29 '12 at 16:36
    
+1 for taking notes, but for more than just meetings! I'm a native English speaker, but I process writing much better than speaking. To make up for this, I take notes both on what the person is saying AND how I want to respond/questions I want to ask so I can refer to them when it's my turn to talk. –  sheepeeh Dec 19 '12 at 16:08
    
Taking note of unfamiliar things and looking them up later is great but if the opportunity is available, try asking for clarification within the meeting itself. There may be other people who are also unfamiliar with the item and this will help them too. –  Burhan Ali Mar 17 '13 at 18:16

Sounds like your problem is not so much with communication skills in general as with understanding and using English (a foreign language to you - as for many of us). To improve this, you need more practice and experience with English.

Probably you aren't the only one having such problems at your company, so I suggest you to start by discussing this with your coworkers to find others in the same situation. The more you are, the more weight your plea has when you turn to management for help (which should be the next step).

Management may help you by arranging (or sponsoring) training with native English teachers to improve your English vocabulary (in general or on a specific area/domain), verbal skills, comprehension of specific accent(s), expressing your thoughts flexibly and effectively etc.

If this is unattainable, you may try enrolling to an English course yourself, or do self study:

  • expand and solidify your vocabulary by regularly reading English newspapers / books / web pages and looking up unknown words,
  • take regular "language bath" by listening (even passively) to native English radio / TV broadcasts,
  • do "post mortem" analysis of your own phone conversations to find weak spots, improve or replace bad habits or improper expressions,
  • find native English colleagues / acquaintances and spend time chatting with them, asking them to correct your speech as needed.
share|improve this answer
    
+1 for the last bullet point. Practice is always helpful in attaining skills, and in this case you need practice responding to spontaneous conversation--no amount of reading can provide that. There are many sites online that match conversation partners, but I can't make any specific recommendations as I've never used them. –  sheepeeh Dec 19 '12 at 15:57

I am not a native English speaker and here are a few concrete examples of things you can do:

  • When you are writing a message or a document, make sure that grammar and spell checks are all activated. I have learned a lot this way.
  • Watch movies in English and read English books for topics you are interested in.
  • If this is available in your area, join the Toastmasters organization. I never joined but I saw terrific results with individuals who did.
share|improve this answer
    
My alternative to toastmasters.org was to marry a native English speaker. –  David Segonds Nov 29 '12 at 15:28
    
my wife did both :-) –  GuyM Nov 30 '12 at 10:07

The main objective of communication is to UNDERSTAND and then to be UNDERSTOOD.

How to achieve it right way? First don't assume that you understand completely what the other person is saying and always hold a suspicious nature whether I understand fully or am I missing anything. Ask relevant questions. Like "Do you mean so and so or does it looks this way to you. I am thinking so and so, don't you think so" and paraphrase. Or repeat it like "OK. I understand now the situation is so and so" or "so you are saying so and so, Am I correct?"

Similarly don't assume that other person understood everything correctly. Engage them with some questions. like "Based on this what do you think? What are your suggestions? Do you think X is the factor that affects this?" etc..

After the discussion or meeting is over send follow up mail, saying that as per the meeting the following is my understanding. Rewrite what you understood, and place some questions if required. Add a note saying please feel free to add if any thing that I have missed.

And one practice that I suggest here is think in English. Most people try to think in a native language and translate it into English. But when you start think in English, you will probably be spontaneous.

One more practice is try to speak clear and with less speed. It is OK to speak less than the average speed. This way you are giving more time to your brain to construct correct sentence. In order to improve this habit, regularly read an English newspaper (or anything that is in English) aloud in such a way that your mind, mouth and ears all work and maintain low speed while reading.

And keep improving your English speaking skills by various means. All the best for your English speaking.

share|improve this answer
  1. talk to your friends or colleagues in english(atleast try some english words during your conversation).

  2. Start texting in English(Its always a good way to start with).

  3. Start reading english novels and watch english movies.

  4. Some part time english speaking class could also help you to mange your grammatical skills and also how to phrase english sentences.

  5. Create account in english.stackexchange

  6. Never get demoralised when some one makes fun of your english(infact ask them for the errors, so that you dont repeat those errors.

share|improve this answer

Communication skills plays a very significant and are an essential component of a productive workplace. This skill allows the employees to work together purposefully and professionally. There are several ways that can improve the communication skills at the workplace.

*Organize a training program that teaches the quality verbal communication sills for a proper interactive session and telephone conversation. Focus is made on a clear and concise statements.

*Offering an inter-departmental communication session, which may all other departments to have an interaction with each other.

*Focus on listening in training and sales meetings. Its very important to explain the importance of hearing what the other person is trying to say.

All you need is to participate in the conversation as this will definitely build your verbal communication skills.Try hard ad interact with the other department members as this will help them in enhancing the communication skills.

share|improve this answer

You need to talk more with people from different countries about technology and more, look videos about technology too. That should be better than read English stuff or speak with your Hindus friends

I am thinking that your write level is good enough and that you need to improve only your speak level, and the way that you think.

I have the same problem and is a communication problem not a problem with your English, I am a Software Architect from Chile, I speak 4 languages, I've been lived/travel in more than 12 countries while working remotely with companies and people from more than 25 countries.

First you need a good attitude, self confidence that you speak good enough to establish a good communication, this is very important, some people quit in this part or keep in their mind a repetitive stress cycle, a waste of mind resources.

Your way of think or your way to express yourself is unique, don't lose that when speak other languages, an accent define your personality your culture and so much more things, like your life, inclusive your work, there are a lot of great Hindu Engineers of course a soft accent is quite better for people not familiarized with a multicultural environment.

Forgot your native language for a while, avoid read or speak, this is because you need to learn to think in English as part of your natural day, this is the unique way that you can have a spontaneous communication, and is quite difficult to train yourself in some of the deepest states of your mind, for example after 2 or 3 years of speak only English I started to dream in English and have all my mind language in English as part of my normal life, that help a lot since I don't need to translate nothing in my mind, so I can speak as fast that I can think.

Usually a new neutral accent take a time, from 2 to 10 minutes, less or more depending of your experience to change or adapt your heard, and is normal that, for example now I am speaking with people in South Africa and that was a completely new accent for me and I notice the time that takes me to understand 90% or 95% of the words from the beginning that I can understand just around 40% 50%.

Some people speak rural, non educated or non professional accents, with slang, or so fast etc, you need to stop that from the beginning, some people can't speak with an educated accent, but you can ask to they to speak slow, for example the most neutral English accent is the old English Polite accent that is quite extinct, like the English of the Kingdom, but the English from the England suburbs is one of the most difficult to understand, usually in a work environment you will never find those problems.

People that hate English, some French people for example, they really don't care about their pronunciation and usually ask if you can speak french, you must understand that French was the world official language before the second world war, so their accent is usually strong and one of the worst to understand.

So you must think in improve your communication, not only your English, obvious stuff as all the time ask "what you mean with..." or "please can you repeat the last again" and etc etc, if both part understand that was a successful communication, with the time you can improve but that is experience, changing your way of think, communicate and express your self. In tech really help a lot look at presentations for example the TED channel in YouTube is full of good stuff to train yourself with pronunciation, grammar etc.

BTW sorry for my grammar :)

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.