Do you experience communication stress?
Today is National Stress Awareness Day, raising everybody’s awareness of the effects of work stress and strategies to address it. There are many different expressions of stress, and I know that my clients sometimes experience communication stress.
What do I mean by this?
If you have English as a second language, then you might notice you get stressed before important meetings or presentations, which are more than just nerves.
You might feel awkward, unnatural in your communication and even blocked in trying to express yourself the way you want to. This can be heightened when working with senior managers or clients.
You also may find in certain situations, especially in larger meetings, it is difficult to follow the conversation, even work out who is speaking, and you might not want to say in front of everybody else if you missed a key point.
I know that in some countries you have to wear a mask right now in a meeting if you are in the office, and this can certainly be challenging for communication.
If English is your first language, then communication stress might be about the number of virtual meetings you have in your diary without a break, feeling isolated and disconnected, and stale working in the same environment.
Even if covid restrictions are easing in some parts of the world, many of us are still working in a virtual or hybrid way, and this can continue to cause stress. Plus the situation is constantly changing and we may find the ways of working and restrictions evolving still, so we have to be flexible.
In which situations do you notice you experience communication stress?
What do you do when you notice yourself feeling this way?
Here I share my key strategies to ease your own and your team’s communication stress, especially when working virtually in international teams:
- The right people on the call: identify who is key and keep it to the minimum number, as it is easier to communicate virtually with a smaller group and there is additionally the opportunity for everyone to have a fair share of voice.
- Be time-sensitive: Be clear on exactly how much time you might need for the discussion and challenge yourself. Could the meeting be completed in 15, 30 or 45 minutes, rather than a full hour? Are you allowing people time to have a break before their next meeting?
- Success is in the preparation: focus on the essentials of best practice for meetings. Share in advance the key points you want to cover in the agenda and the expected outcomes of the meeting. Check if there is anything else the rest of the team want to add so the discussion is not distracted by spontaneous topics.
- Keep your camera on: it may seem obvious, but I find this practice varies across cultures and there are times when we may not want to turn on our cameras for a variety of personal reasons. However, there is a clear, positive benefit for stronger communication and connection, and this supports clarity and understanding for everybody in a multi-lingual and cultural team.
- Small talk matters: just because the meeting is virtual, do not forget the personal side of the conversation before getting down to business. Small talk is even more important at the start of a meeting to build the human element of the relationship and feel like you are working as a team.
- Watch your speed: If English is your first language, we sometimes assume that international professionals who operate in English daily are more fluent than they really are. This is an even more important point to keep in mind on a virtual call. So maintain a slower pace of speech, speak clearly, and flag when you are changing topics or the direction of the discussion, so everyone can follow.
- Use inclusive language: be aware of using idioms, humour or cultural references in your language, as this can exclude people who have English as a second language. Their meaning can be obscure and hard for international professionals to interpret, so keep your language simple and direct.
- One at a time: Ask one question at a time or focus on one topic for discussion at a time, which will make the discussion easier for everyone to follow.
- Pause regularly and check: make sure the full group have the same interpretation of the discussion by reflecting back and summarising after each section what you have said or what others have shared.
- Decision making: it can sometimes be challenging for decisions to be made in virtual meetings, so do not force the decision on the call, and allow extra time in the meeting preparation for sharing ideas with individuals, or following up to align everyone to a decision.
- Wrap up: it is even more important in a virtual meeting to clarify verbally at the end what has been decided, the key actions and next steps, then follow up with written confirmation.
Any questions or need more help for you or your team on the challenge of communication stress in your international team? Contact me to chat further about how I can help you.
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