Lost in politeness: Building transparent communication in a globalised world

As a nation, we British are famous for our politeness. The trope has long been played out in books, films, comics and now social media, poking fun at the nation’s ingrained culture of queues and apologies in almost every situation.

As a nation, we British are famous for our politeness. The trope has long been played out in books, films, comics and now social media, poking fun at the nation’s ingrained culture of queues and apologies in almost every situation. We have become famous for creating a parallel dialogue or secondary narrative – using phrases like “that’s not bad” to actually mean “that’s good”. 

However, the parodied contradiction of what people say, versus what they actually mean can soon become problematic in the workplace. This caricature of polite indirectness can get in the way of productivity, connection and efficiency, limiting employees’ ability to speak their minds and feel empowered.

Many businesses are shifting to a more globalised way of working – whether that be through an increased number of partnerships and alliances or a more international strategy for recruitment. With these shifts in a hybrid working environment comes a need for transparent communication as an essential foundation of business success and an enabler for helping teams to collaborate more efficiently – regardless of their individual communication style or the one that is prevalent in their community. 

In this piece, I’ll share some recommendations for building honest and clear communication between teams and partners – wherever they are.

Encouraging polite directness 

For those that aren’t used to a direct style of communication at work, it may take some practice to adjust – after all, everyone has their own style of communication. However, as a leader, I would strongly recommend that you start this process with yourself – how do you communicate? How do you like to be communicated with? Then move on to what you notice about the communication style of your team members, partners and clients and look at how to drive the right culture of communication for each group. 

Ensuring that your team knows how to communicate well also means addressing our interpretation of things. Many people, for example, fear that directness might be interpreted as rudeness, so it is essential that your teams know how to be direct in a polite and confident way. Achieving this may mean actively investing both time and money into one-to-one feedback, team discussions on what seems to be working and what should be improved, and external resources for those who need them. 

Explicit communication is especially important when dealing with clients and partners – and especially challenging because many of us feel the need to be overly polite in these precious face-to-face meetings. But beating around the bush can often result in the meaning and clarity of your message getting lost in translation. Being direct but caring is an essential part of cutting out any miscommunications.

Creating agreements, not setting expectations

Honest and clear communication can also help businesses to build relationships with partners and clients in the right way. This is about going beyond just asking a client about their expectations in order to understand their needs better. Not only can expectations come across as fluid, undefined and prone to misinterpretation, but with the wrong tone, it can also create a loop of misunderstanding and friction that can slow down progress. 

The best approach to take in business – whether within a team or with a client or partner – is to focus on agreements instead of expectations. Expectations are usually subjective, with one person giving another an indication of what’s to be done.  Agreements, however, are a fruit of collaboration. Letting go of expectations and prioritising agreements means approaching whatever you do as a joint effort instead of an order, agreeing on where you stand on projects, and defining the direction together. This can help remove a lot of guesswork and set stronger foundations for commitment and clarity around when and how you are going to do things.

Developing intercultural competence 

Hybrid working has opened greater possibilities for businesses to create more diverse and international teams. With this, comes the need to understand how to better support intercultural competence in the workplace. This means knowing how to work effectively with people, in tune with their culture and background so that no matter who you are speaking to, they feel like they can have their say.  

Having a team spread across two of monday.com’s main locations of Tel Aviv and London, the cultural nuances are seen even more clearly, as the passion and emphasis of Israeli dialogue can sometimes overwhelm the more conservative and reserved interactions of someone from the UK.  This highlighted to me the importance of knowing your team as well as your clients – especially when your choice of words might change the outcome of your communication so dramatically. 

Communication has always been essential to how we live and work, but how this fits into our digital strategy is increasingly important in a hybrid and globalised world. With the right patience, learning and feedback, companies and leaders can support their teams in building transparent and honest communication with one another, not just in the workplace, but beyond that too. 

Naveed Malik
Naveed Malik

Share via
Copy link