The Winning Voice

Best in class communication techniques from Michael Kelly

‘Rolling their eyes’ – Foreign English speaker

‘How do I handle this situation?

I have a regular teleconference with members of my team which includes a person – of Bulgarian background – who calls into the conference from a remote location.

The thing is, is that this person’s pronunciation of English is mediocre at best. I have to keep on saying “sorry”, because I can’t understand him, to the point where I feel I may be embarrassing the guy.

I also notice that other people in the room rolling their eyes and becoming distracted due to the guy’s unclear speech.’

Recently an executive shared this challenge with me.

Here are suggestions I shared with the executive on how to handle this situation:

  • Talk to the person before the next teleconference and tell him about your concern. Before doing this, consider how you would want to receive this message if you were in his place. This will contribute to the person better receiving and accepting the message.
  • Provide resources where the person can access ESL (English as a Second Language) training.*
  • Offer to give the person one on one feedback on their speaking after each respective tele-conference. (The best way to give feedback is with encouragement and framed with “I liked . . . I suggest. . .”. Omit words such as, criticism, negative, wrong etc.)
  • Tell people in the room that you’ll be talking to the person about their speaking and making suggestions for English speech improvement. As well, have these team members consider how they would feel/handle speaking Bulgarian with native speaking Bulgarians – where their Bulgarian proficiency was tenuous. In other words, encourage them to have empathy with the person.
  • Consider what you and other team members might learn about Bulgaria and its culture, through asking the person genuine questions about the country and culture.

*if you want contact details for ESL training/trainers in Australia, please email me.

‘A different language is a different vision of life’. Federico Fellini


Own the Conversation

In the next seven days, consider the various people in your office, who are from different cultures. Choose a person you know and when the situation seems appropriate ask a genuine question about his/her culture, country, language etc.


p.s. Check out this post – Who’s in the Grand Final? The post contains practical techniques to help non-native English speakers better assimilate and communicate in the Australian work environment.

p.p.s. Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society. —Mark Twain

2 Comments

  • Murray

    May 25, 2017, 12:21 pm

    I’d suggest that you consider getting someone with better pronunciation skills to sit in with him to ask the questions for him as well. – That person can also be a role model/mentor/coach during the conference.

    Maybe have that person (or even him) use direct messaging with his comments and a local person present the comments. Sure it will be tough and it will reduce the eye rolling at the same time.

    Let’s be realistic – he won’t have a dramatic improvement in 4 weeks because English phonics will be foreign to him.

    • michael

      May 29, 2017, 2:37 pm

      Thanks for the suggestions Murray.

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