February 18, 2019 All, Writing in English, International Business
Adrian’s Communication Tips – How to Add a Spark to Your Message
In this article, you will learn how to:
* Make smart choices when adding a personal note
* Tailor your approach in oral vs. written communication
*Adjust your wording in both subjective and objective matters
Something unexpected happened during a seminar I recently attended. The trainer was well prepared on the topic, the level of detail was tailored to the audience’s level of expertise, the delivery was fun and engaging, everything was perfect. It was a semi-formal setting so I felt free to share my thoughts openly and at one point, in an attempt to acknowledge the trainer’s hard work, I stated:
“This is more complex than it seems.”
To which the trainer, who wanted to accentuate, replied:
“Yes! It’s f%@^$&% complex, I might say!”
Crickets in my head… I was puzzled for a second and did not know what to say or do. Working with US clients every day, I know that I would never ever (ever ever) say that in a business environment. The English thesaurus provides such a great array of vibrant, colorful, nuanced expressions that would have better suited the occasion.
Remember – it is easy to let “dem big Hollywood movies” with their foul language make you think it is okay to casually blurt out such flamboyant exclamations. But in a business environment you might want to let those intercultural communication skills unfold and put yourself in your client’s shoes. Do not let a forced smile trick you into thinking expletives are adding value to the conversation, nor that you should use them again in the future.
While it may be okay to make use of certain words in your native language, their translation might not be so amusingly clever in a different one. Mot-a-mot translations can lead to mini-disasters, despite your good intentions. If you think a phrase from your native country will always transmit the same emotion when translated – think again!
But here is a plot twist: Someone smart once said context is king, and it was no different in this instance. I am Romanian and, as you might anticipate, the seminar took place in… Romania. Believe it or not, the Romanian equivalent expression is not as harsh as the English one. For connoisseurs, “al naibii de greu” is perfectly acceptable in semi-formal settings – look it up.
Luckily, most of the audience were non-native English speakers and, interestingly enough, because I was the only one who regularly worked with US clients and spoke English more than my mother tongue, I was the only one taken aback by the trainer’s remark. The others, who worked with other geographies, took it lightly.
On top of that, the trainer was giving a live speech, and we could see his facial expression, hear the inflections of his voice and embrace the contagious enthusiasm that was instilling the room. This made the message much more understandable, and was perceived more as a funny moment than a show stopper. Had it been written communication, the story would have differed significantly – even in a non-native English speaking country.
Oral communication gives you much greater freedom of expression because you can make good use of ancillary tools, such as voice tonality, inflections, pauses, body language, and more. This allows you to attach a feeling to your message and transmit it to your audience, and can also provide a favorable setting to make bolder choices. We have all attended training sessions that we found interesting at the beginning while, 15 minutes later, we were yawning and feeling guilty for having the attention span of a dog. It is unexpected moments that re-engage our brain and cause us to listen attentively.
Written communication, on the other hand, requires much more caution. If you need to express disapproval, disappointment or any kind of negative feeling in writing, tone it down. Your reader may interpret it in a way that is not in line with your intentions, such as offering honest feedback – assuming written feedback is the only viable option.
The same goes when you want to write a positive message and decide to drop the flat, old, humdrum corporate slang by adding a personal touch. A spark of the unexpected will draw attention but not necessarily bring popularity, so choose your words carefully. Unlike verbal communication, written communication provides you with less power over emotion that comes across to your audience. Once you give the power to your readers and tailor your message accordingly, the odds will be in your favor.
Here’s another interesting fact – adjusting your message based on the target audience’s native language does not stop with subjective matters, like emotional impact and propriety. It applies to hard facts as well. This not to say the truth should be altered, because this is NEVER the answer.
But if you tell an American you ran 3 kilometers, you might be asked: “Is that a long distance?”, because America uses the imperial system. Or if you vent about how it is 33 degrees outside, an American might say: “You poor thing, you must be freezing,” when in fact you are having a tough time handling the overwhelming heat. Of course you were referring to Celsius, not Fahrenheit.
The concept is the same: you need to give your message the context it deserves to make it relevant and get your point across. Context is king and the same message can be perceived in significantly different ways, depending on variables like the method of delivery and cultural influences. Whether you want to add a playful note to your message or shake your audience from their bored stupor, use caution and make smart choices.
If you want to add that pizzazz, that razzle dazzle, that flava flave, that certain je-ne-sais-quoi to your message, shock value can only get you so far. A thesaurus can always give you a way to convey your message the way you intended, and also do it in a manner that is easy to digest for all audiences. For example, Sponge Bob says “Barnacles!” whenever something does not go as planned.
“If you think a phrase from your native country will always transmit the same emotion when translated – think again!”
“Once you give the power to your readers and tailor your message accordingly, the odds will be in your favor.”
“Whether you want to add a playful note to your message or shake your audience from their bored stupor, use caution and make smart choices.”
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This article was professionally proofread by Writesaver.