In working across cultures, you undoubtedly spend time on video conference calls. But how much thought have you put into the factors that may be uniquely important when talking to people across the border or on the other side of the world?
Here are some Best Practices:
- Make sure there is an agreed upon agenda before you start tying up everyone’s time. You could unnecessarily waste time and lose credibility if you assume the other party’s agenda is the same as it would be in your own culture – priorities can be surprisingly different around the globe.
- Send materials ahead of time, if you can, so that non-native speakers of English have time to fully comprehend the content. This is especially critical if you are working with the Japanese and are hoping for a decision of any sort; Japanese decisions rarely happen on-the-spot.
- Assign someone on your team to keep things flowing smoothly and another person to take notes. Prepare visual aids to assist in comprehension.
- Check out the technology ahead of time. It never hurts to restart your computer. Log in early to make sure you don’t need updates and can sign in smoothly. Make sure the camera is positioned well so your face, or the team’s faces, can be seen clearly. Be sure there is good lighting – not just behind you nor right in your face.
- Afterwards, DON’T FORGET TO DISCONNECT. You really don’t want someone to overhear a private conversation.
2. REMEMBER, YOU’RE ON CAMERA
- Don’t forget that even if you’re not the one talking, someone is undoubtedly seeing your shifting attention to e-mail or texts on your phone, your revealing facial expressions (such as a bored look or furrowed brow), or your slouching posture. People on the other end may have an expectation that people in a meeting should look serious, formal, attentive. They may also place more importance on non-verbal communication and be watching yours much more intensely than you are used to.
- If you are conducting this at home, make the surroundings and yourself look as professional as possible.
- Think of yourself as a news anchor: dress for the occasion, sit up straight, smile politely, make eye contact with the camera and/or other participants in the room and speak clearly with an appropriate volume for where you are sitting in relationship to the microphone. Your body language or hand gestures can easily look exaggerated, aggressive, or go off screen – so limit yours as much as possible. And don’t ever let anyone see you eat!
3. DON’T DISTRACT
- The slightest noise can get amplified, so attention gets drawn to the shuffling of paper, clicking of a pen, typing on a keyboard, or engaging in a conversation on the side. Assume your line is never muted, so turn off your cell, mute your laptop, and don’t make side comments. Take notes by hand if you must.
- Don’t conduct the call with people walking around in the background. They will end up being the video the other party or parties watch. Sit in a room dedicated to this purpose or make sure there is a wall behind you.
- Even your clothing can be distracting: choose natural, solid colors over bright colors or busy prints (stripes are great on zebras but not necessarily on camera). Ditch the Hawaiian shirt, blouse with plunging neckline, or large, shiny pieces of jewelry.
4. MIND YOUR MANNERS AND DON’T MONOPOLIZE
- Make sure everyone is introduced and actively bring others into the conversation. If you are talking with a number of locations, ask for input from each location. If you are speaking with a room full of people on the other end, ask if anyone else would like to add something.
- Just because your team doesn’t have a problem interrupting or talking over each other, it doesn’t mean that people from the other culture won’t. If you don’t give them an opening – and for some cultures that means a long pause – you may never get their critical input. Give more than a few seconds for a response and allow for lag time.
- Also, be careful you don’t seem disrespectful to others on your team. Get in agreement ahead of time, and suggest a break if you need to realign offline. A team divided rarely inspires confidence, except to a person who would relish the opportunity to divide and conquer!
5. FOLLOW UP
- Exchange meeting notes with the other party and try to have an informal conversation to confirm that your understanding of the meeting agreements and action items is consistent with theirs. Since people from some cultures would never volunteer this information, it also doesn’t hurt to ask for feedback about the video conference call itself: was the connection satisfactory, lighting ok, sound good, pace of conversation easy to follow, or was there difficulty understanding anyone?
Nothing can take the place of in-person communication, but if you consider the points above and use standard, non-colloquial English, you"ll maximize your time and the medium you are using. I also recommend you review these: 10 Critical Cross-Cultural CommunicationTips.