Americans have a distinctive communications style, regardless of the part of the country they come from, regardless of their personal family or educational background, and regardless of their business and technical skills.
This American style of communication has been the subject of many studies both by Americans and those from other cultures. We will go into the principal components of this "American-style" later; at this point let's just say that much of the rest of the world feel that they can identify an American speaker not so much by accent as by communication style.
Those who have studied international business communications agree that there is a set of challenges that is common to almost all Americans operating in an international environment.
These challenges include:
Communicating respect for the values of others while retaining personal and organizational integrity.
Cultivating empathetic skills while pursuing rational objectives.
Practicing judgment-free interactions while retaining personal values.
Tolerating deep ambiguities while enjoying the differences those ambiguities express.
Nurturing effective business relationships in small as well as major ways.
Being aggressive and persistent while respecting unfamiliar limits.
Two areas of business where these six principles come into play with special intensity are:
Making Effective Multicultural Presentations In English
Managing Remote Written/Spoken Communications In English
In this book we'll see what lessons can be learned from people from other countries who have worked alongside Americans both in the United States and in their own country. These observations were gathered over many years while I worked as a cross-cultural consultant to American, European, Asian, Latin American, and Middle Eastern companies and organizations.
Much of the time my work consisted of facilitating better communication between multicultural team members in technology companies, and in the process of the work we did together many frank discussions developed between American team members and their foreign counterparts in which individuals and groups expressed the difficulties they were having in communicating effectively and their perception of the origin of these difficulties. These sessions were rarely “blame games”; rather they were sincere attempts on the part of everyone involved to understand why people of good will seemed to go astray so frequently in the context of multicultural teamwork.
Another component of my cross-cultural consulting work was helping American company management plan strategic initiatives involving multinational partners. I found that very often the frustrations encountered by American managers were grounded in their inability to understand the importance of personal relationships in business to their foreign counterparts. Again, the issue of effective communications lies at the core of most such frustration.
Finally, in some of my work the client was a foreign company doing business with an American partner and wanting to remove perceived obstacles to effective business communications, planning, integration of operations, staffing, and other areas of business where interpersonal relationships have many subtle influences that Americans, by virtue of their cultural inclinations, seem to have difficulty appreciating and practicing.
With these observations as a background, let me present some of the sincere criticisms and helpful suggestions that I heard offered many times by people from other countries doing business with Americans.