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I am a recent graduate student having secured my first entry level position in a financial services firm. I recently received feedback from both my coworkers and supervisor that while my performance overall is exemplary, my communication skills could be holding me back. A significant portion of my coworkers come from outside the United States with Latin American and Middle Eastern countries especially heavily represented. My domestic coworkers from the US seem to have no trouble understanding my communications. I am not sure whether its the actual content of my message, delivery mannerisms (gestures, tune...etc) or cultural barriers thats impeding comprehension. Given that the feedback mainly comes from international coworkers, I sense that a cultural misunderstanding / impediment could at the root cause.

As my position has significant client contact, how can best improve my expression - verbal and else wise?

  • As far as communications goes your question is stated very clearly. Your co-workers may just not understand proper succinct English. Are your clients also not US? – paparazzo Dec 31 '14 at 2:27
  • @Blam Given the multiethnic nature of the firm, some are, but a signifcant amount is not – Anthony Dec 31 '14 at 2:32
  • Are the issues with all communication, only verbal, or only written? (You mention gestures and tune which implies speech; do they understand your email ok?) – Monica Cellio Dec 31 '14 at 2:50
  • @MonicaCellio It seems to pertain mainly to verbal expression – Anthony Dec 31 '14 at 3:15
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    Do your foreign colleagues also have similar trouble understanding your other US colleagues? That might be a valuable data point for you to decide where the problem lies, and how to address it. – Masked Man Dec 31 '14 at 4:44
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There could be cultural issues at work or unconcious bias on your part. I work daily with people from other cultures and the potential to be misunderstood is great.

Americans, unfortunately, often have a cultural bias that they are number 1 and everyone else is somewhat less good than they are and it comes across to the people they work with as arrogance (which it actually is, but more a cultural arrogance than a personal one). So check to see if you consult your American co-workers and listen to their input but dismiss the input of people from other cultures, for instance.

As far as what specifically to fix, you need to ask first your boss and then your international co-workers. If your boss has told you that you have communication issues, ask for specific examples and then listen to why they were considerd to be a problem. You need to do this without getting mad or trying to justify.

After your boss gives you the specifcs of what complaints have been made, then pick one or two people from each of the cultures you are working with and go to them and say that you have been told you have a problem communicationg and you need to understand how people in their culture prefer to communicate and how they expect things like emails, business meetings, casual conversation to go.

There may be issues with you standing too close or too far awy. They may prefer a more indirect communication style (I had to get used to this with my Indian colleagues). They may prefer to have information flow differently - Americans tend to go directly to who has the information, some other cultures prefer to go through the management chain of command and if you skip the manager and go to the worker, he will be insulted. They may think you talk to fast or have an accent they find hard to understand. They may think you are too personal in what you talk to them about casually or not personal enough. It ireally is hard to say. The only people who can tell you are the ones currently who have a problem with how you communicate.

If possible, I would look for some reading materials on the culture of the people you work with. Try to get a better understanding of where they are coming from.

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My background: my native language is not English. I lived in the US for over 30 years and worked for two of the Dow Jones 30 companies during those years.

I agree with @Blam that one of the possible reasons is your English is too good. When I read your question, I had trouble with two words: exemplary and mannerisms. I understand what "manner" means. But, "mannerisms" is something I had to stop to think. I did not understand what "exemplary" means, I had to go to online dictionary to figure it out.

If you use the kind of words like exemplary and mannerisms in the daily conversation with them, you would have troble with communicating with them naturally. They sound too succinct and too formal.

I never talk to you face to face, I have no idea if your English speaking is like the writing of this question. But, even if you used less formal words, they may still be unable to understand you.

My suggestion is: use plain English as much as possible. This plain English is not necessarily street English. Just try to use plain and simple words so that it's easier for them to understand. If you must use those formal or succinct words in some cases, explain to them what those words mean so that they could learn something from you.

One of the key issue of communication is: communication is two way traffic. So, not only you need to make them understand you, but also you need to understand them. Another suggestion: talk to them more often so that they'll understand you and you understand them more.

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