International business meetings are where cultural differences manifest. Every culture has its own interpretation of professional conduct and etiquette, and definitely has its own corporate rules too. As a result, professionals can and do clash during such meetings. Language barriers, for instance, can make communication difficult. It slows down the pace of a negotiation, and thus delays progress. Or worse, it may prevent you from fully understanding the terms of a contract.
Below are some ways to prepare for an effective multi-cultural meeting and avoid a clash.
Find a Suitable Time
Time zones and meeting times do affect the success of your international meeting. Setting the right time, however, can be a bit tricky if you’re dealing with people around the world. You can easily accomplish this by using online tools that help you visualize working hours in different time zones. Be sure to get the correct time zone conversion before sending out meeting invitations.
Also, every culture has a different approach to time. Some, like the British and Germans, are time-oriented and are strict about how and when meetings are conducted. Other cultures are much more flexible. While you can’t accommodate everyone’s expectations, it helps to carefully plan each phase of the meeting.
It also helps to rotate meeting times (that is, “share the pain”) if you regularly hold international meetings.
Allow Plenty of Time for Preparation
Since not everyone is a native speaker or don’t speak the same language, it’s important to give delegates enough time to review the materials. Send them out at least 48 hours in advance so that delegates can thoroughly prepare, understand the agenda, and raise the right questions.
Make sure everyone knows the purpose of the meeting. If you can, contact the participants individually and discuss what is expected of them. The point is they should know what role they should play and carry it out effectively.
Coming to the meeting prepared makes it easy for everyone to collaborate and run a successful meeting.
Hire Competent Business Interpreters and Translators
Ordinary translators won’t do. For an international meeting to be successful, you need a team of qualified interpreters who fully understand how business works. You need skilled professionals who can effectively communicate between different parties and offer insights into the cultural nuances of a particular culture. These business interpreters are certainly a worthy investment.
Make it Easy for Everyone to Communicate
Speak more slowly and pause for questions or confirmations. This will help non-native speakers process what you’re saying and follow your idea or statement.
Lengthy pauses, especially after a few minutes of speaking, will give members time to think of questions, evaluate their options or rethink their position. This strategy works especially if you’re trying to convince a foreign client. He or she may need some extra time to think about your offer or fully understand the importance of your message. So pause for questions. Just don’t make it feel uncomfortably long.
Send Detailed Minutes and Materials After the Meeting
International meetings are successful only when they yield results. That’s why you need to follow up after the meeting and remind everyone what needs to be done. You can, along with your detailed minutes, include action items and notes. These will help participants review what was previously discussed and make sure that you’re working on the same wavelength.
One more final tip: make your international meetings relaxed and enjoyable. Have everyone introduce themselves at the beginning and put them all at ease.