Telephone Conference: Clarity or Chaos

Telephone or video conferences give us the opportunity to communicate efficiently in a global network—virtually every day and without travel costs. Nevertheless, they can simply be counterproductive, even harmful. A few examples—and how to do better.

By Jens Kügler

Kat G. came from Scotland. You knew it when she only opened her mouth and spoke a syllable. However, WHAT she said in her English remained hidden from me because of her rough Scottish accent. Every time Kat called me, I asked her: Kat, speak slowly please, I’m not a native English speaker (I should have said: I’m not Scottish …). Well, she couldn’t speak slowly. So I interrupted every conversation after three minutes at the latest and told her to write me an e-mail.

Ask your American colleagues if they really understood everything that “se Dschörmäns” (the Germans in German English) said. Or the people from Dubai, whether they could really follow the comments of the sales manager from Shanghai or Mumbai. In short, when we conduct an international telephone or video conference, we all somehow break through something that none of us speaks like his mother tongue: Inglish. It is therefore advisable for someone to take the lead in the conversation and repeat what has been said and have it confirmed. And asks everyone whether they have understood.

Are we actually globalized? No—not mentally. You probably know that: “We” Europeans and Americans like to be a little cheeky, know-it-all … we have our say on each other. But on a telephone conference, nobody sees the facial expressions of the others and recognizes the role of a spokesman. And the Japanese colleagues? Out of sheer Far Eastern label courtesy they wait well-behaved until they get their say. And of course they never get it. So they have nothing to say! In short: Someone has to lead the conversation and ask all participants one after the other, otherwise many go under.

To ask everyone—there are several good reasons for this. If participants do not feel addressed directly, they often deal with other things and mentally switch off. Some write mails, others watch funny videos. And what about humor? With funny, supposedly loosening remarks? This can be a disaster, not just because of cultural differences. But also because nobody recognizes the facial expressions and gestures that are indispensable for humor.

How can all this be avoided? Some things were already touched on in the last blog post: “Tuesday, 10 AM: Video Conference!”. Just a few points as a supplement. There should be a discussion leader, who sends the agenda to all participants first, so that a manual exists and all are well prepared. Then the tip: At the beginning everyone introduces himself and his activities, one after the other. And in the same order as with the introduction round the discussion leader asks the participants, if all are to contribute to the last thing mentioned. Otherwise, a telephone conference can become a waste of time.

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