How Well Does Your Team Communicate in a Global Economy? Print E-mail
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Written by Susan Mucha   
Tuesday, 31 May 2011 23:54

Mutual understanding comes from confronting differences in perceptions and cultures.

We’ve all heard the phrase “think globally, act locally.” Yet how many of us actually think globally in the ways we communicate? In many cases, the way we communicate with others is based on very local, cultural-driven behaviors. This doesn’t just happen in US operations – it is a global issue. “Local thinking” is typically strongest in emerging, low-cost labor markets, but also occurs in established low-cost regions when there is high turnover or skilled administrative and technical labor shortages exist. In electronics manufacturing services environment, local thinking can drive significant miscommunication. Three key areas to evaluate in terms of potential communication errors are:

  • Quoting.
  • Negotiations.
  • Technical discussions.

In the quoting arena, there are two areas where there can be significant variation in perspectives between cultures. First, time sensitivity can vary widely. In the US, EMS turnkey quotes are routinely turned in fewer than 10 days. However, turn times in other countries can vary significantly based on the volume of quotes in the queue, sophistication of the supply base in responding to quotes on custom parts, and the quote team’s perception of time sensitivity. Second, there may be disagreement on how much visibility customers should have into pricing. Good communications practices include:

  • Clear communication of deadlines and a process for confirmation that the requested delivery date is achievable.
  • Clear understanding of information needed to quote in that region, particularly if custom components are part of the project.
  • Agreement on how pricing will be broken down and acceptance that shared pricing must be accurate.

Additionally, since cultural perception conflict can develop in multicultural teams, there should be some mechanism for periodically discussing what is working – and what is not – in the process. Issues that arise from conflict in perceptions of the “right way to do things” can go away when people discuss differences between their perceptions and reach a mutually agreeable solution.

In negotiations, cultural conflict often arises in regions where arguing is considered rude. Mexico and most of Asia are culturally very polite. In Asia, disagreement can lead to loss of face. Often the solution is to avoid discussing the issue in order to eliminate the possibility that the other party will lose face when proven wrong. In Mexico, there tends to be a strong desire to avoid disappointing others by saying no to requests. The more expedient solution is to agree to the request, give it one’s best effort, and have a really good reason for failure if the desired result is not achieved. Additionally, in Mexico, there is little difference between criticism of a behavior and criticism of the individual, so disagreement once again potentially insults the other party’s judgment relative to the feasibility of the request.

The result is that negotiations on critical issues either don’t happen, or worse, appear to reach agreement when in fact the other party hasn’t agreed fully. In program management, these disconnects can translate to missed deliveries and failure to pass along valid cost increases. It can also drive lower customer satisfaction if some customers are viewed as overly aggressive in their negotiations and ignored or avoided. Good communications practices in this area include:

  • Team training in acceptable negotiation standards and focused discussion of regional differences in negotiation styles.
  • In regions where negotiation may be considered arguing, clear expectations need to be set on what are acceptable customer requests and what areas may require negotiation. Introducing the concept of giving several more feasible alternates to saying no can be helpful.
  • Personnel negotiation “tolerance” may need to be evaluated in determining account assignments.

In technical discussions, language differences often drive the biggest communications mistakes. In many cases, it isn’t a pure lack of second language competency. Instead, it is a combination of use of unfamiliar jargon and fear of embarrassment. In countries other than the US, fluency in multiple languages is considered the norm. People viewed as not being fluent are perceived as less competent than peers with better language skills. But, even individuals who are highly fluent in multiple languages may not be fluent in localized idioms, company-specific acronyms or jargon. The tie between fluency and competency discourages questions on points that aren’t entirely clear. As a result, an engineer for whom English is a second language may agree to what they think you said rather than ask the questions necessary to fully understand a project objective. Good communications practices include:

  • Team training and discussion on the value of clarifying questions in complex projects to create a comfort zone relative to asking questions.
  • A focus on avoiding idioms, jargon and acronyms that may not be globally relevant.
  • A pattern of written communications followed by phone discussions to make it easier for key points to be understood.
  • Slowing down conversations and repeating key points several times to give people who are mentally translating time to process information or catch up after brief lapses in attention.
  • Verbally testing comprehension by asking other team members to restate key points and commitments.

In short, be sensitive to perceptions of those with whom you communicate and install processes that lead to better understanding on both sides. In my experience, the more communications processes, perceptions and cultural differences are discussed and mutually understood, the stronger the working relationship.

Ed.: Mucha is chairing a session on Global Strategies for Lowering EMS Costs at SMTA International ( in October.

Susan Mucha is president of Powell-Mucha Consulting Inc. (, and author of Find It. Book It. Grow It. A Robust Process for Account Acquisition in Electronics Manufacturing Services; This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Last Updated on Wednesday, 01 June 2011 13:44


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