Successful Communication with International Clients

Posted 03/11/2020
Successful Communication with International Clients

Guest blog by Kellie Noon – Director, Onno Training

How would you describe a stapler? I remember spending 5 excruciating minutes trying to buy one in Spain when I started at university. I’d walked into a beautiful old shop where everything was behind a counter and you couldn’t actually pick up the products yourself, so I had to make myself understood, come what may.

I duly embarrassed myself and gave a long-winded description of what the tool I was hunting down actually did: kept paper together, had metal bits, you use it in the corner… I tried to describe it with the language I had, and after much complication and embarrassment, I managed it!

What did I learn? Communication might always happen, but it isn’t always simple.
These moments stay with you, as does the learning. Using language in situ is the best way to learn to communicate, and to learn how to communicate.

Language is more than just words. It’s how and when we use them, with who, at what stage in the relationship, and what particular context you’re in at that moment in time. In this blog post I’m going to share with you something I would urge everyone working internationally to do: learn what is culturally acceptable and adapt your language accordingly.

Communicating with potential clients at trade shows, virtual conferences or in private meetings, all require different tactics. The Journal of Business Communication laid out back in 2010 the importance of accommodating your language to your audience and found that “native speakers can often be the cause of miscommunication and misunderstanding in intercultural interactions” . It’s time for us to change this.

Learn what is culturally acceptable

Language is so much more than words. It includes cultural elements of the place(s) that speaks it, and when learning a language these cultural nuances can be key to really engaging with your client or not.
Here are just some of the questions you should consider before diving into a bigger conversation or negotiation with a prospective client or new contact within an organisation:

• What are the local conventions for names and use of titles?
• What are the local conventions for turn taking?
• For jumping in and speaking all at once?
• For use of silence?

• Who can you talk to?
• Who makes decisions within that organisation?
• Do you need to find someone of the equivalent status within the organisation or is it acceptable to talk to anyone in that company and ask to be put in contact with the relevant person?

• How long should you talk for?
• What questions are considered rude?
• Should you engage in polite conversation, asking peripheral questions and getting to know them, or get straight to the point?

Making just one mistake with any of these areas can at best momentarily confuse the client, and at worst offend or disengage them. It’s vital to understand how each culture works and how to prepare for communicating with different people.

Other things we can do to maximize communication is learn how to use clearer English. There is a Plain English campaign that you can use for support, or contact a professional to train your team in using clearer, international English.

Whatever you do, plan carefully. Use internal and external resources carefully and get advice or support where needed. My advice: prepare for everything. Assume nothing.

You can contact Kellie for support with developing your International business and communications at

Exhibiting Internationally? Hire Bilingual Staff for your future exhibitions – contact us here:

Posted 03/11/2020