Managing Multicultural Teams: A Guide To Improving Communication

By Emma Serlin
September 12, 2019

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In an increasingly multicultural workplace - and with teamworking on the rise - it is becoming more and more important to prioritise effective cross-cultural communication. The good news is that whether you are a native speaker or a non-native speaker, there are steps you can take to ensure accents aren’t a hindrance to important conversations.

Communication has always been a shared responsibility and when it comes to accents, it is no different. In the past, the onus has been on non-native speakers to ‘get it right’ when communicating and this has caused more problems than solutions. In reality, the best conversations happen when we are free of the pressure to say something perfectly. Understanding one another has rarely been about our word choice, as much as the connection between us. 

For non-native speakers

Your ideas matter more

Don’t worry about the specific sounds of your accent. That kind of mental work is exhausting and can distract you from what is more important: your ideas. Focus on what you want to say rather than how you’re saying it. Your value to the organisation is not dependent on how you pronounce a particular word, but in your creativity and expertise.

We use a powerful tool with clients that we call delivering gems. Think of your ideas as mini-gifts for your listeners. You wouldn’t throw those gifts around the room like sweets. You would place them carefully in people’s hands. The way you think about your ideas will change how people receive them, consider them and value them.

Prepare your thoughts

Prepare yourself

If a meeting is coming up soon, jot down some key thoughts in advance so you can refer to the framework of it. If you’re unsure what the meeting will be about, ask the leader to share the agenda with you. This will mean you have less to think about when the meeting starts. 

Take your time

When you come to speak, try not to rush. If you are worried, it can be easy to hurry through what you planned to say, but that does not treat your ideas with the respect they deserve. Take your time.

Pour your energy into the vowels, using them as a connector so you speak at a slower pace. If in doubt, breathe!

Use pauses to manage your pace, try not to ramble but present your ideas and check they have been received. This is part of the basics of effective communication and is even more important when people with two different original languages are communicating.

Check back on understanding - asking something as simple as, “Was that clear?” or “Any questions?” This can make all the difference when it comes to avoiding misunderstanding and reducing awkwardness, shame and embarrassment.

The importance of pauses

Ask for help

You don’t need to prove yourself, only present your thoughts. It is better to ask a colleague for a word than hold back an idea. Even native speakers do this all the time! They pause, turn to someone and ask, “What’s the word for…?” 

Gilly Sharpes, a principle coach at LSW, says, “One of our clients was told by her colleagues that she repeated herself and often spoke too fast. When she was promoted into a managerial role, she was very worried about coping with her accent. When she came to LSW, we helped her work on problem sounds, intonation and accent softening - while keeping the focus on delivering her ideas. Now she feels empowered and confident. She can take her time with communicating and, because she hasn’t been worried about the language, she has built stronger relationships with her team.”

For native speakers

Practise active listening

Active listening is a powerful way of communicating (verbally and non-verbally) that your team member’s ideas are being heard. It helps the speaker relax so they’re less likely to rush or mumble their words. Their ideas will help your team work at its full potential, so encourage them to share freely by keeping an attentive posture, nodding and reflecting back to them what they are saying.

Collaboration in a meeting

Create an environment for discussion

Send out some pointers in advance of a meeting so that non-native speakers can prepare their ideas. When the meeting comes around, allow time for open discussion instead of putting people on the spot with questions. This will give non-native speakers time to formulate their ideas and contribute to the discussion when they are ready. If you are facilitating the discussion, take steps to prevent other native speakers from undermining or interrupting them.

Remove the pressure to perform

Understand that non-native speakers may have difficulty conveying what they want to say in the exact form they want to say it. They may even keep their points to themselves - valuable insight that will help your team thrive. It’s worth going out of your way to make non-native speakers feel comfortable. Sometimes that means building a connection with them yourself, or creating the opportunity for others to get to know them better.

Organise social activities in a non-business setting to give the team a chance to build rapport. Once the pressure to perform is removed, real relationships can form, which helps everyone feel more comfortable with one another. For non-native speakers this can make the difference between contributing their full potential or holding back.


We offer custom courses for business that are individually tailored to address any level of business, with any objective. If you need to improve the performance of multicultural teams in your business, or you want to maximise potential in other areas, give us a call on 020 3137 6323 or head over to our online booking form to arrange a Taster Session.

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