This week I had an opportunity to help mediate between a company and its offshore help desk. A friend invited me to participate on a conference-call with overseas managers of their offshore help desk. I wrote previously about how internal cultural intelligence allows companies to overcome cross-cultural challenges arising from off-shoring work. I helped my friend’s company by explaining US culture to the overseas managers and I showed my interest in their culture by speaking their language. By speaking two words of their language, I showed my genuine interest in overcoming our communication gap.
The teleconference I attended included some of my friend’s management and the managers from the offshore help desk. Negative customer feedback–among other reasons–prompted the call. People who were used to calling the US help desk (back before it was offshore) complained that they could not understand the new help-desk staff and that they felt that the help-desk staff didn’t understand them. And these people often expressed their sentiments rudely.
I tried to comfort the offshore managers that they were not to blame, even though the comments sounded awfully personal. I explained to the overseas managers that many Americans did not understand the challenges of cross-cultural communication. In the context of these managers, many people conducted daily life in more than one language; in the US, most of our people could not do so, even if the opportunity arose. Many Americans go through their days speaking only English and hearing English entirely from native speakers. As a result, accented English sounds to them very strange, unfamiliar, and even threatening.
While the meeting continued on in a standard, formal manner, the end took a turn as I spoke a few words of the staff’s language. During the call, I had brought up the page from Omniglot.com with common phrases in their language. I ended the call with simply, “Thank you. Good-bye,” in their language. The formality loosened as they all smiled (presumably) and laughed (audibly). My friend said this was the sound of a hug; if this had been a face-to-face meeting, they would have hugged me. One American speaking two words of their language advanced our mutual goodwill tangibly.
As a side note, I coincidentally started that same day speaking French with the same results. The company I work for has an office in Quebec. I had called someone who had been having some trouble and had reached her French-language voicemail message. After I sent her an email in French, she emailed back in French. So I called her up, but this time I left her a voice mail in French. When she finally called me back, I let her decide what language we would speak in, and she decided on English. Nevertheless, I could hear her smile over the phone that *she* got to decide what language to speak. How often does a Quebecois decide which language to speak with someone from the States?
Has your language skills or interests helped lighten a difficult situation? Have you seen where cross-cultural communication helps a difficult situation? Have you worked with off-shore help desks?
“Like” this post if you’re ready to have Omniglot at the ready next time you make your next overseas phone call!
- Firms succeed offshore by cultivating cultural intelligence at home (lovinglanguage.wordpress.com)
- Beyond Cultural Differences: Cross-Cultural Comfort (culturalsavvy.wordpress.com)
- cross culture communication in china (carolzhao1107.wordpress.com)
- My Teachable Moments in Cross-Cultural Communication (culturalsavvy.wordpress.com)
- Communication without barriers: The Phenomenon of Cross Cultural Non-Verbal Communication (ttunonverbalcoms.wordpress.com)