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Overcoming Language Barriers: How to Communicate Effectively

Wednesday, November 9, 2016 9:00 AM

Expert Advice

Written by: Laura Baldwin

8 Simple Tips to Get Your Message Across

Laura Baldwin
BSM senior consultant

In today’s global business environment, it is highly likely you will find yourself conversing with someone who may have limited skills in your native language. These people may be customers, employees, or colleagues. Many people think communication is simple. However, it is actually complex, with many opportunities to send or receive the wrong message.

Consider the following tips when communicating in your medical practice:

  1. Keep your message simple. Be clear about what you are trying to communicate. Avoid slang or use of culturally specific expressions.
  1. Select your words carefully. Choose simple words, phrases, and short sentences. There is no need to “dazzle” with your vocabulary.
  1. Speak slowly. Slow down your speech and avoid running words together.
  1. Allow for pauses. Give your listener time to take in your message, ask a question, or respond.
  1. Pay attention to your message delivery. Avoid covering your mouth when speaking. Often, being able to see one’s lips helps the listener decipher what you are saying.
  1. Avoid the urge to shout. Speaking louder does not make it easier for someone to understand you unless they have impaired hearing. Also, shouting can be interpreted as intimidating and give the impression that you are angry.
  1. Be aware of nonverbal cues. In America, maintaining eye contact is considered a sign that you are giving someone your full attention. However, in other cultures such as Japan prolonged eye contact is considered rude.
  1. Check for understanding and comprehension. Stop every so often to make sure you are being understood. Respectfully ask the listener to repeat what has been said in his or her own words to ensure comprehension. If the message has not been received correctly, try restating it in a different way, and then ask for additional feedback.

In addition to the above tips, it is important to carefully choose your communication channel when attempting to overcome language barriers. Often it is more effective to have a face-to-face discussion instead of trying to communicate through phone or email.

Your Turn: What other tips do you have to ensure successful communication? Please leave your response in the comment section below.

If you have a specific question regarding this topic, contact Laura Baldwin at


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