How To Facilitate Meetings With International Colleagues

How to facilitate meetings with international colleagues
How to facilitate meetings with international colleagues. Photo by Matthew Henry from Burst.

Have you ever facilitated a meeting with colleagues from different countries? And when you want to generate discussions, did you notice some do not participate much? If so, the tips in this article might help you get more results. Here are some ideas on how to facilitate meetings with international colleagues.

Tips on facilitating discussions with international colleagues

#1.  Invite input from each person to make sure everyone is heard

Let me explain why this is effective with a story from a client. This brilliant engineer from Japan is very accomplished in his country. In fact, he received the presidential award in his country for his achievement. When he moved to the Seattle office of his company, he felt discouraged.

Although he has wonderful ideas, he could not get a word in during meetings. His colleagues who were born here are used to jumping in. They are used to speaking up whenever they want. My client is accustomed to meetings that are orderly. Each person takes turn speaking. No one interrupts another.

If the facilitator of the Seattle meetings were aware of this, he would have gotten more good ideas. By making sure that each person has a turn to speak, my client could share more easily. And it doesn’t mean the whole meeting needs to be like that. Just make sure that before you move on to the next point, to invite input from those who have not spoken.

For example, you can say something like this. “Before we move on to the next point, I want to go around the room to make sure everyone has a chance to share. Masato, would you like to start?”

Don’t worry about slowing down the meeting by taking this extra step. You are there to find solutions. If one format does not give you input from everyone, try a different way. Do you really care spending the extra minutes if it means you could gain one more brilliant idea?

#2.  Send a meeting agenda in advance so colleagues can prepare

When you work with international colleagues, be mindful that your speaking pace may be faster than what they are accustomed to. Remember, they don’t use your language in their daily life. And you may use idioms that they don’t know. This could contribute to less participation in discussions.

However, if you send a meeting agenda in advance, your international colleagues will have an opportunity to prepare what they want to say. Depending on how fluent they are in English, this extra preparation can be helpful.

#3.  Personally invite input before the meeting

And here is one more tip to get more participation in discussions from your international colleagues. The day before the meeting, go to each colleague who is usually quiet during discussions. Ask them for their ideas on 1 or 2 items on the agenda. For some, it is easier sharing ideas with one person than with an entire group. Then, during the meeting, you can say, “I was talking with Masato about this, and he has a wonderful idea to share.” Then give the floor to him.

So, these are 3 tips you can start practicing. See if you get more participation from the quieter colleagues from other countries. If so, keep doing it.

Just go around the room to make sure each person has a chance to speak. Send the meeting agenda in advance. And ask the quiet individuals personally for their ideas before the meeting.

If you find this article helpful, here is one on How to learn discussion skills.

Estrella Chan coaches immigrants and international professionals in English fluency, interview skills, and public speaking.    To schedule a session with her, please email

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