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A slip of the tongue- ensuring fail-safe communication

Communication across borders is fact of life in most modern offices. But when communicating in a digital age, with clients or suppliers spread across the globe, how do you ensure that your message is clearly delivered?

Written communication is a logical starting point when working with people in other countries. When time zones make spoken communication difficult, email, social networks or shared resources give people the chance to respond to messages at a more convenient time. Written communication can be a massive time suck if not used efficiently, though.

It’s not practical to expect all international staff to be Pulitzer prize-winning authors, but it’s easy to ensure that employees know what’s expected of them by sharing your style guide with staff. Many companies only use their style guides for their websites and newsletters, but letting employees outside the marketing department become familiar with it will mean that they know what they should be aiming for in terms of written communication.

If you don’t already have a style guide, it’s relatively easy to write one or point employees in the direction of a more general resource, such as a published style guide, that fits with the ethos of the company.

An effective style guide will emphasize clarity and simplicity over complex language. This is a key point for making sure communication is effective. Word-choice is vital, too. Having an adequate working vocabulary and being able to use specific words that leave no room for ambiguity is a must when communicating globally.

While a style guide works well for written communication, there is no equivalent for speaking. When using English for business communication, it’s important that employees are trained for the cultural interactions that come along with a language. The way in which something is said can have a big impact on the meaning it carries.

Again, an emphasis on polite simplicity works well with business English. Being polite but to-the-point will ensure that people aren’t offended and that they can clearly understand the information they have been given.

Communication in a digital age isn’t just about words, though. Making use of images, diagrams and screenshots can help clear up what would have otherwise been a confusing written exchange. It’s important that staff have both the skills and technical facilities to do this. Screencasts and screen-sharing can simplify complex technical processes, eliminating the need for lengthy written explanations.

Collaborative tools can also help make communication more efficient. If an employee can actually make the changes needed to a document rather than having to ask someone else to do it, the communication process is further streamlined.

So, communication is more than a chain of individual interactions and, with a clear policy, you can help avoid misunderstandings before they happen. While no communications system is absolutely flawless, it is possible to make communication more effective through the use of appropriate communication channels and an emphasis on simplicity and clarity in all forms of communication.

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