When working abroad, it is quite common to find yourself in situations unable to express your ideas and find that others do not understand you. Of course, if you cannot express your desires or ideas, it is impossible to do your job. In these situations, people often attempt to deepen their cross-cultural understanding and improve their communication and linguistic skills. Despite this, they remain ineffective. Why?

In reality, most intercultural communication problems are not issues of quality, but rather an issue of quantity. Let me build on the ideas of Hitachi Metals Thailand Factory Manager Daisuke Kishio.

As very few people can communicate in a local language, most people working abroad—Japanese included—end up communicating in English. If this is not your native language, open, fluent communication will not occur without the prerequisite language skills. For example, you might be lucky if 60% of what you say is understood, compared to speaking in your native language.

On the other hand, the people you talk to are also likely to consider English their second language. Just as Japanese may not understand 100% of the English they hear, it is not uncommon for a non-native English speaker to comprehend only 60% or 70% of what you say!

For example, when communicating in Japanese in an organization consisting of only Japanese people, one can basically express 100% of what they want to say, and those listening will (hopefully!) understand 100% of what they hear. However, when abroad, perhaps one can only express 60% of what they want to say, and those listening can only understand 60% of what they are hearing. Even if they think they expressed 100% of what they wanted to say, in the end 60% x 60% equals only 36% of the message being communicated. Only one-third gets across!

This is the source of feeling unable to express yourself, and unable to be understood. With only 36% of the message being expressed due to language barriers, in order to match the volume communicated in one’s native language, three times the volume of communication is necessary.

So, in a global environment, if you feel unable to express yourself, or that others don’t understand you, make sure to check the volume of words that you speak. You may discover that far from speaking three times as much as you do in your native language, you in fact only speak around 30% of what you normally say!

Communicating 24/7 takes a great deal of energy. Being unable to express what you want to say leads to a lot of stress and can waste time. You may find it troublesome, and the amount you speak may drop dramatically, compared to speaking to staff in your native language. 

However, to combat this, first try communicating with three times the amount of words.

This sounds simple, but it is an easy way to start. I hope you will incorporate this advice into your daily life. It certainly helped me.

GLOBIS Asia Pacific / GLOBIS Thailand: Courses in Singapore and Bangkok in Japanese and English to support businesspeople and businesses active throughout Asia. Offered by GLOBIS Management School, with over 80,000 students in Japan. 

This article was originally written in Japanese and has been edited for a global audience. 

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