In an interesting experiment, an American university professor divided students into two groups. Both listened to the same lecture by a native speaker of English. Each group was shown a photograph of the purported speaker. The group that was shown a photo of an obviously American speaker exhibited greater comprehension of the material than the group which believed it was listening to a non-native speaker. Both listened to exactly the same speech delivered by the same individual.
Personal assumptions, cultural bias, gender, age or racial prejudices, education preconceptions, and power hierarchies – so many factors affect the way we perceive others. Even when we speak the same language, these biases can affect the way we hear and understand each other. In communicating with foreign customers or colleagues in a teleconference, the effort must be made to set aside our cultural differences to understand each other. Often cultural references and idioms get in the way of clear communication and repetitive efforts must be made to arrive at a shared understanding. Video conferencing can present additional challenges where body language and gestures common in one culture may give unanticipated offense in another.
Many companies that regularly do business in foreign countries have implemented cultural advisor services to assist their employees in putting the company’s best foot forward. If your company does not offer such a service, you can find many country-specific websites that provide helpful advice on bridging the cultural gap by entering a search for foreign customs + business meeting. Proper advance preparation will ensure a smoother, more productive teleconference or video conference with your foreign counterparts.