How To Improve Communication With International Colleagues

Last Updated on January 12, 2020 by Estrella

How to improve communication with international co-workers
How to improve communication with international co-workers. Photo by Sebastian Soska from Pixabay.

The Pacific Northwest is such a diverse place that very likely, you have co-workers from other parts of the world. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could enhance your communication and build rapport more easily with these colleagues? To help nurture these relationships, here are some tips on how to improve communication with international colleagues.

Communicating with international co-workers

When asking a co-worker to repeat

When asking someone to repeat, say “I am sorry. Would you say that again?” or “Pardon me. Would you repeat that?” There’s a reason to begin with an apology. You are diplomatically taking the blame for not understanding. This is a polite move, so the other person does not feel bad about not speaking perfect English.

One response to avoid is saying “What?” with the tone of “I can’t understand your English.” That contributes to building barriers because the other person FEELS your attitude, which could come across as a criticism of their English ability. A few polite words, along with a diplomatic attitude would be so helpful in building communication bridges with your co-worker.

Make sure chronological order is clear

If you are discussing a topic where chronological order is critical, spell it out. English uses verb tense to indicate time. Not all languages do that. Some indicate time in other parts of the sentence. Depending on your co-worker’s mastery of English tenses, there could be misunderstanding of chronology.

A good way to be clear is to say “first…second…third…” If you are in a meeting with a group, write down the sequence in numerical order. Do not just rely on verb tenses. Make the order clear in other ways as well when you are in an international team.

Greetings and goodbyes are important in many cultures

In many cultures, the way you greet someone or say goodbye to them reveals your attitude toward them. Your respect for them, how important you consider that person to be in your life. High-context cultures put more attention in non-verbal communication than low-context cultures. Acknowledgment of someone through greetings and goodbyes are very important in some societies. And not just hello and goodbye.

I heard a woman from a high-context culture praise a young man for the way he acknowledges someone. Everytime he passes by that person, he nods, smiles, and says their name. This is considered very courteous in that culture. Knowing and practicing these nuances of interpersonal relationships are highly regarded.

Use these daily contacts as possible ways to nurture your work relationship with your international co-workers. Spend a few more seconds in your greetings. Maybe shake hands even though you just saw them the day before. In some cultures, handshake is a normal part of everyday greetings. It’s not reserved just for meeting someone new.

So, experiment with these suggestions, and see how they affect your relationship with your international colleagues. If you don’t understand someone’s English, begin with an apology, then ask for repetition. And if chronological order is important, make sure you are clear in more ways than just relying on verb tenses. Remember daily greetings are very important in some cultures. If you practice these, you would probably find your work relationships even more satisfying.

If you find this article helpful, here is another one on How to facilitate meetings with international colleagues.

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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *