How to improve cross-cultural communication in telephone conferences

How to improve cross-cultural communication in telephone conferences

Prolog: Call me.

Oh, the joys of a global telephone conference. It seems that all cultural stereotypes are in on this call: the brash American using sports analogies, the meticulous German with detailed process questions, the timid Chinese lady whose question can hardly be heard, the consensus-oriented Swede demanding group votes and the yawning Australian asking when we wrap up so he can get back to bed. What did we actually decide on? Let’s hope someone is writing up the minutes.

Situation: Many telcos, too many voices.

As business needs are increasingly coordinated globally, it seems the amount of personal meetings is steadily decreasing and replaced with meetings using modern telecommunication (mainly telephone conferences, commonly abbreviated as telcos). While a telco in one language is already hard to steer, global telcos can become a linguistic nightmare with uncertain outcomes.

Option: Try these handy tips for better global telco outcomes.

  • Depending on countries, split the telcos into two main time zones to take advantage of the participant’s working day. One telco for Western & Eastern Europe and US East Coast and a second telco for Asia-Pacific and US West Coast. Bonus: South America gets to choose.
  • Plan some general „chat time“ during the beginning of the telco to put everyone at ease and wait for final laggards. Safe topics: weather, vacation & weekends.
  • Use the chat function for questions to save time and ensure all participants see (and understand) the question.
  • Limit the information more to a push feature with questions at the end. As organizer, centrally mute all phones until the Q&A session.
  • Have all important facts on slides (either presented during telco or sent as pre-read).
  • As a native English person, speak twice as slowly than normal and refrain from using complex words.
  • Offer a separate follow-up call with participants that have too many issues / questions or you have the feeling that buy-in and/or understanding may be lacking.
  • Send out meeting minutes shortly after telco including presented materials.

Take-away: Telcos are difficult enough in one language. Careful planning and empathetic implementation can help make global telcos more successful.

© John Guenther Consulting 2019

John Guenther Consulting helps international companies reach their marketing business goals through interim assignments in leadership and project management roles. John is a seasoned marketing executive with 25 years of marketing & sales experience in global roles and diverse industries. His focus is on B2B marketing, transformation of marketing organizations, optimization of marketing & sales cooperation, brand management and agile leadership of complex marketing projects. Learn more at

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