This is the second in a 2-part series where M-POWER Senior Partners, Lisa M. Marchese and Raj Panday explore how “the art of communication is the language of leadership” (James Hume). In Part 1, the authors identify the characteristics of what makes a great communicator and highlight the challenges for today’s international business leaders. Read Part 1 here.
The Solution: A New Approach
English is the official language of the global business world. For today’s professionals, however, the objective should not be to learn English. Rather, the goal must be to develop the skills to communicate with a purpose and with persuasion. This approach is aimed directly at the acquisition of communication fluency.
To better understand why a new approach is needed, we must return to our ever expanding and ever connecting commercial world. The international marketplace continues to create new growth opportunities across diverse geographical platforms. Success in this environment requires business leaders to form alliances with companies from different cultures, with different values and who speak different languages. They must use a common language to communicate – even if that language is not their mother tongue. When those company leaders sit across tables in boardrooms, conference rooms and dinner tables to explore commercial opportunities, they need to use a common language to communicate. That language likely will be English, the most spoken language in the world with nearly 1.5 billion speakers. English is also the most studied language in the world It is also the formal language in 70 countries worldwide.
English is the universal language of the international business world. The world’s major financial centers such as the New York Stock Exchange, the NASDAQ, the London Stock Exchange, the Toronto Stock Exchange, the Australian Securities and Exchange and the Hong Kong Stock Exchange all conduct business in English. The official language of the World Bank and the working language of the United Nations is English. Multinational companies such as Airbus, Samsung, Microsoft, SAP and Renault all have designated English their official corporate language. By this action, they seek to facilitate communication and strategic growth across the diverse geographical reaches of the global marketplace. English is also the most used language on the internet. Roughly 56% of all websites are in English. It is also the medium for 80% of the information stored on the world’s computers. The presence and prevalence of English in the commercial world is a growing trend that continues today.
That business professionals must now speak English is a given. To become successful leaders, however, they must acquire communication fluency. Development of this skill requires a new and innovative learning approach – well beyond traditional methods.
When considered against the demands of the contemporary business world, traditional methods of language instruction are a recipe for failure – particularly when it comes to English. These outdated techniques seek to teach new vocabulary, basic grammar rules, listening and conversation skills. The goal is to enable students to use words and phrases to speak English – or any other second language. However, learning how to speak with persuasion and effectiveness are well beyond the traditional language curriculum. In this context, speaking persuasively and effectively are merely aspirational concepts left for the student to figure out on his own. Here, we have arrived at the source of the breakdown of the conventional approach. If we cannot communicate persuasively in a language – we do not know that language. When it comes to English, business professionals must have the ability to use it as a means of persuasion and production in a competitive global environment where opportunity courts risk daily.
The acquisition of communication fluency requires a multi-faceted approach that begins with an essential partnership between learning and teaching. Teachers must first understand the specific duties, responsibilities and needs of their students. Then, they must customize their curriculum to meet those needs by conveying essential knowledge well beyond vocabulary, grammar and conversation skills. The traditional “one size fits all” approach is no longer viable. The goal is to enable students to develop skills of persuasion beyond the mere use of a language. This type of contextual communication fluency requires a profound understanding of cultural habits and practices as well as specific business and industry practices.
Knowledge of business culture and specific industry rules and practices are at the core of this new approach. An expansive English vocabulary and impressive command of grammar, alone, won’t enable us to communicate with fluency. With that as the source of our knowledge, how would we know if English speakers typically say what they mean in certain situations? Is it their practice to be direct when an issue or problem arises? How about interruptions and aggressiveness? In what situations are these behaviors acceptable or expected? In what circumstances would they be deemed offensive, and perhaps destructive to the business relationship? What about common idioms and expressions? If we don’t understand the meanings behind these cultural and practical nuances, we will miss important details that could “make or break” our next great business opportunity. If we do not understand the business situation or syntax, we are likely to misinterpret the words of our peers or professional counterparts.
In general, a company’s commercial risk tolerance represents a combination of its cultural attitudes, practices and values. Armed with this knowledge, a professional can formulate strategies to pursue commercial opportunities with an awareness of the motivations and preferences of his counterpart. Without this knowledge, a professional is likely to draw inaccurate conclusions based on incorrect assumptions or incomplete information. Understanding business risk and motivation, therefore, are also crucial for communication fluency.
In summary, business leaders need to learn how to communicate, not how to use English with fluency. This solution requires an innovative partnership between teaching and learning. This approach must encompass a broad and strategic view that leads to knowledge of culture, business and industry practices.
To become business leaders, professionals must be effective persuaders. Like all great leaders from history, their tools of persuasion are comprised of the words from the language they use. Our global commercial world has connected diverse companies and cultures across sweeping geographical platforms. English is firmly established as the official language of international business. Business professionals must do far more than speak English – they must communicate with fluency. Those that learn how to communicate effectively and persuasively are the ones who know English. They are tomorrow’s leaders and the next great success stories of the international business world.
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