Succeed in America

Overcome Cultural and Linguistic Barriers. Improve Effectiveness

nara@SucceedinAmerica.com 




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thumb_Laughterand-Leadership1_1024We all know that humor is good for you. Lighthearted laughter will regulate one’s blood pressure, accelerate recovery from illness, and decrease stress in the workplace. In other words, laughter can be good medicine.  [pullquote] How people perceive humor is culture specific [/pullquote]

It’s true that all cultures enjoy humor and laughter, but how people perceive humor is culture specific. With increasing cultural diversity in the workplace, we need to keep in mind that humor is meant to be funny, not insulting. What perceived as funny in one culture might not be understood or might even be insulting in another. Some cultures use sarcastic or put-down humor in conversations so as to tease each other. Other cultures do not use sarcastic humor and find this type of humor offensive. Often, in a diverse gathering an inappropriate joke may misfire. So I do not recommend poke fun at other groups and individuals in professional and business gatherings (and in personal life as well!).

How to determine what kind of humor is appropriate? [pullquote] I recently met a manager who was demoted for repeatedly ridiculing an employee’s accent. As you can see, sometimes “humor” is no funny business! [/pullquote]

1. If you want some fun, have it at your own expense – the safest type of humor is self-depreciating humor.
2. Do not tell jokes related to physical appearance like a person’s height, weight, or the size of their nose and the like.
3. Keep in mind that humor does not translate well because very often it is based on word plays or puns, and these do not translate easily into another language.
4. Do not tell political, religious, ethnic, racial jokes other jokes that ridicule peoples’ beliefs or affiliations or even accents. In one organization, I recently met a manager who was demoted for repeatedly ridiculing an employee’s accent. As you can see, sometimes “humor” is no funny business!

So, know what, when, where, who, and how to kid around appropriately in the workplace.

You Might Also Like These Articles:

Gender Interaction in Business: Job Interview
Sexual Harassment or a Compliment?
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tn[2] (2)**Dr. Nara Venditti is the owner of Succeed In America specializing in business communication skills for foreign-born professionals and cross-cultural communication in the workplace. She is passionate about cross-cultural understanding and helping non-native speakers of English succeed in the American workplace. She speaks  and writes on Business English and communication across languages and cultural divides. She is  the author of numerous articles and books on the topics available on SucceedinAmerica  and  on  Amazon




One of the most common questions I get from my seminar participants is “How do I begin a conversation at work?” In other words, “How do I start small talk?”  This is a great question because the importance of small talk is huge in business and you need to use it to your advantage.  And if you are a non-native speaker of English, as added benefit, practicing small talk will increase your English language proficiency.

First, what is small talk? Let’s define it. It is non-business related conversation. It is discussing things unrelated to business and work, such as weather, family, hobbies, or weekend plans.

Why making small talk is important? Here is why. You can be the best specialist in the field but,  progress in your career, is highly dependent on your ability to build good working relationships with people at work. Why? Let’s face it — our success depends on people. Small talk is an effective way to connect with people and to build relationships, including relationships at work.

Can you engage in small talk at a business meeting?  Yes, you can, but you need to know when and how.  Here are a few important tips:

1. When. Always make sure you arrive at the meeting a few minutes before start time. You can and should make small talk while you wait for the meeting to start. Dominant word here —“before.”

2. What topics to discuss? You should discuss things unrelated to the meeting (general-interest subjects)  such as weekend plans, weather, family, hobbies, mentioned above, and movies, theater, sports, books, food, travel.

3. What small talk topics to avoid? Generally, avoid any topic that may concern private or personal matters. There are three major topics you should avoid when socializing in the United States: personal finances, politics, and religion.

  • Personal finances: Personal money management in the US is considered to be a private matter. Asking about personal spending or income is considered very rude. Especially, do not discuss salaries or how much another person makes. Matters of general interest, such as prices of gas or groceries would be acceptable. 
  • Discussing politics: Avoid political discussions. Politics is a very complicated and personal topic and is not an acceptable friendly small talk.  
  • Discussing religion: Religion and religious views  are also considered to be a private  and very personal matter and should not be discussed in business environment.

My best piece of advice for polite  small talk  —  always avoid any subject that may be of  an emotional nature.

Here are some more tips and examples:

  1. Look approachable: smile, have eye contact with others, have an upright posture, and open stance.
  2. Don’t be afraid to initiate a conversation. Say: “Hi, John (Eddie, Laura), how are you?”
  3. Keep a positive, light tone, don’t get too emotional, and listen.
  4. Always finalize a conversation graciously. Don’t simply cut it off. Say something like “It’s been great talking with you.”  “I really enjoyed hearing about…” “I’d love to hear about it when we have another chance to talk.”  “It was nice chatting with  you… (catching up with you…) Or just  say: “Nice talking to you” and smile.

Here are two possible scenarios that suggest techniques for small talk.

1. Gloria arrives a few minutes early for an office meeting. Jayesh, a colleague she knows well is already in the room. 

Gloria:   Hi Jayesh, how are you?

Jayesh: Great thanks, and you?

Gloria:  Well, I’m well. And enjoying the golden fall (autumn) in New England.

Jayesh:  Fall is great.  But I am also looking forward to winter. I love skiing and snowboarding.

Gloria:  The meeting is about to begin. I’d love to hear about it when we have another chance to talk.

2. Jayesh arrives early for a departmental meeting. A colleague from another department that he does not know, is already sitting at the table.

Jayesh:   Hi I am Jayesh. Are you here for the meeting on…?

Peter: My name is Peter, nice to meet you. I am from the Los Angeles office.

Jayesh:  Is it OK if I sit here? 

Peter:  Of course.

Jayesh: How do you find Washington this time of year?

Peter: Very hot, it is hotter than LA (Los Angeles).

Jayesh:  Really? Amazing! Listen, I have a pool party today at my house. If you are free, would like to join us? 

Peter: Sure. Thank you.

Jayesh:  The meeting is about to begin. Let’s talk about it after the meeting.

Listed below are sample conversational  phrases and questions that you can use to start and maintain small talk before a meeting starts.

Can I sit here? Is it OK if I sit next to you?  Is this seat vacant?

Did you get to the presentation on…(related to the meeting)? What did you think?

How are things working out with your new manager? (new boss/new colleague)

Have you been involved in this project before? How is it going so far?

Have you travelled far? How do you find our city? our weather? Is it your first visit?

Which department do you work in?

Did you see/watch football (soccer, basketball) last night?

How was your holiday? 

How did you like Florida (New York)? 

Have you been to this part of the country before?  

Have you been here before?

Want to watch the video on this topic? Click here

 You may also like: Three Vital Tips for Building Confidence in Business Meetings  http://www.succeedinamerica.com/?p=1396 

tn[2] (2)**Dr. Nara Venditti is the owner of Succeed In America specializing in business communication skills for foreign-born professionals and cross-cultural communication in the workplace. She is passionate about helping non-native speakers of English succeed in the American workplace and educates on Business English and communication across language and cultural divides. She is  the author of numerous articles and books on the topics available on SucceedinAmerica  and  on  Amazon amazon-underground-app-us-black.    

As Carrie Underwood once said, “My cell phone is my best friend. It’s my lifeline to the outside world.” I would add that it is becoming more and more common to make business-related phone calls over a cell phone. However, due to connection s

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pecifics, it may be challenging to sound professional especially if English is not your native language. For this reason, I am providing some samples that you can use in various situations.

Want to watch a YouTube clip on this topic first? Click here.

In this short article, I am going to list some useful and important cell phone phrases.[pullquote] I didn’t catch what you just said [/pullquote]

A fading or weak signal

  • I’m sorry, I’m losing you. Please call back, or can I call you back?  
  •  I can hardly hear you. Please let me call you or call my land line number.
  • You are breaking up. Let me call you back.
  • I am having trouble hearing you. Could you call me back?
  • Sorry – I didn’t catch what you just said.
  • I’m afraid the line is pretty bad. I am afraid that the signal is quite weak now.

A lost call

  • Hi, it’s Gloria again. Sorry I lost you. It appears that we got cut off.
  • Hi, it’s Gloria again. My cell phone dropped the signal.
  • I am driving. We are getting into a no connection zone and I will lose you shortly. Can I call you back in a few minutes?

From: How to Talk on the Phone  — Business English ESL (Phone Etiquette for both ESL and Native Speakers of English in  the Business Environment), Succeed in America Books, 2016. The complete guide can be found on Amazon.

Want to watch  video  on the topic?   Click here.

You Might Also Like These Articles:
When It Is OK and Not OK To Use OK
3 Vital Tips for Building Confidence in Business Meetings 

tn[2] (2)**Dr. Nara Venditti is the owner of Succeed In America specializing in business communication skills for foreign-born professionals and cross-cultural communication in the workplace. She is passionate about helping non-native speakers of English succeed in the American workplace. She
 speaks  and writes on Business English and communication across languages and cultural divides. She is  the author of numerous articles and books on the topics available on SucceedinAmerica  and  on  Amazon amazon-underground-app-us-black.    




 

MeetingShould you improve your effectiveness in meetings? Good idea — how we handle ourselves in meetings is crucial for our careers, personal branding, and professional success. However, shining in meetings  can be very challenging. It can be challenging for anyone but more so when English is not your native language. The good news —  it can certainly be fixed. Read on.[pullquote]If you do not verbalize your opinions and ideas, others will think that you don’t have any! [/pullquote] 

To get started,  I want to give you three essential tips that will help you to come across confidently and credibly during work meetings, and thus make more of an impact.

 1. Learn English phrases for different situations, for instance

  • Interrupting politely (such as  May I have a word?)
  • Commenting (I never thought about it that way before)
  • Politely disagreeing (I understand where you’re  coming from, but…), 
  • more — 

     I will provide more examples in the upcoming episodes. This will also  help  you a lot in overcoming extra challenges related to language fluency. 

 2. Speak up and voice an opinion. Don’t be afraid to contribute. If you do not verbalize your opinions and ideas, others will think that you don’t have any; and if you speak up you will come across as a credible and competent person. 

 3. Prepare beforehand.  Keep in mind that “fail to prepare — prepare to fail.”  Being prepared will make you more confident and will help you concentrate during the meeting. Here are three tips on how to prepare:

  • Study the agenda.
  • Check out participant’s LinkedIn  and Facebook profiles.
  • Prepare your own thoughts and questions beforehand. It’s a good idea to put together a checklists of ideas and possible questions you might need to ask or be asked.  This too will  enable you to listen and concentrate more attentively during the meeting.

Stay tuned for the future postings on how to do that with confidence. 

Want to watch video on this topic? Check out this: https://youtu.be/mwPhln_UsUc 

 You might also like this vocabulary tip:

 When It is OK and Not OK — OK Usage


tn[2] (2)**Dr. Nara Venditti is the owner of Succeed In America specializing in business communication skills for foreign-born professionals and cross-cultural communication in the workplace. She is passionate about helping non-native speakers of English succeed in the American workplace and educates on Business English and communication across language and cultural divides. She is  the author of numerous articles and books on the topics available on SucceedinAmerica  and  on  Amazon amazon-underground-app-us-black   

[pullquote]If you think that you know the meaning of the word OK, think again![/pullquote]If you think that you know the meaning of the word OK, think again! Everybody knows what OK (also spelled as okay, Okey, Okay, or okey) means.  However, is it always used appropriately?  ok-1186364_640

General usage:

 Often foreigners and non-native English speakers are not aware of the multiple uses of the word “okay,” instead assuming that it always means “yes” or “all right.”


For instance, in a work situation when your supervisor gives you a task, such as “Could  you please make this report available by Friday morning?”, it is not recommended to say  “okay.”  A good answer would be, “Yes, of course.

I will list some common usages of the word below… 

– As illogical as it may seem, in certain situations OK  can mean”so-so” as in “How is your dad after his surgery? He is OK, but needs some therapy to recover.”

– OK can mean agreement as well as permission if there are some additional circumstances to take into consideration. For instance: “I have doctor’s appointment and will be back in two hours or so. OK,  just be sure to be back by the end of the day.”

Other usages:

  1. When you are confirming a meeting or date:  “So, we will meet on Friday at noon at the restaurant.“ “OK, agreed”.
  2. When a speaker is seeking permission: “Is it OK if I bring along kids to the party? Of course, we will be happy to have them.”
  3. OK can show irritation:  “OK, OK, calm down!
  4. “OK?” may be equal to “Did you understand me?
  5. Are you OK?” This phrase is used when somebody slipped and is about to fall.  In other words, when you are checking on a person’s condition, when they had an accident.
  6. If somebody’s coughing badly and almost choking, you might say, “OK, OK” to soothe them.
Further Resource:

Need information on Business English usage? Check out Ameri$peak, a mini-dictionary of the most frequent words and phrases  you need to know to communicate effectively in American business: Ameri$peak   or  Amazon).

You might also like:

Two Points on Capitalization in Business Emails

 

Learning any foreign language is a lifelong process. And learning American English is no exception.

When people first begin learning a language they start with the basic grammar and vocabulary. But ultimately, to be able to function effectively in business and in work related situations, you need to master communication skills.

 One of the great ways to start building communication skills is to work with a mentor and/or a buddy. Let’s define the word “mentor”. (I’ll define the word buddy later in this post).

 A mentor is someone who teaches or gives help and advice to a less experienced person. It is a trusted counselor or guide (Merriam-Webster).

 Some companies offer mentoring programs. But if it is not the case, ask for a mentor, be assertive.  Speaking with assertiveness means to speak with confidence, it is respecting yourself while respecting others. Make sure you differentiate between assertiveness and aggressiveness.

 Below are some phrases for helping you to find a mentor:

 

– I need help in improving my communication skills and to learn my way around the company. Can you refer me to a mentor?

– Does the company offer a mentoring program?

– Would you act as my mentor? Can you be my mentor? Can you refer me to a mentor?

 

You can also ask for a buddy. A buddy  can be a friend, a more experienced employee, a member of the team.

 

– Can you introduce me to a buddy who can help me to get oriented in the company and to improve my communication skills?
– Will you be my buddy?

 
Statue of Liberty SpoonIf you use prepositions incorrectly, you will not be understood, or even worse misunderstood, when you communicate in English. This article provides ways to improve your conversational business English by using prepositions correctly.

What are prepositions? These are small, but important words that describe relationships between words in a sentence. They link a word or word group to others. If you misuse them, you will confuse your listeners. Most commonly used prepositions are – of, in, on, at, for, to, from, among, between). Prepositions convey different types of information, such as place (in the room, at work), time (at 7 o’clock, in three hours, on November 7th) or they may give a new meaning to verbs, such as show up, give in, come across.

If you use prepositions incorrectly, you will not be understood, or even worse misunderstood, when you communicate in English.

The challenge in using prepositions correctly comes from the fact that in many cases there is no logic or rules about using prepositions (in other words, in many cases, they have idiomatic or figurative usage).

Here is my position on prepositions – you need to memorize their usage. I repeat, ESL and ELL students and professionals need to memorize which prepositions are used in certain phrases and situations.

Here are three points that will help you to use prepositions correctly in conversational English. 

  1. Be aware of difference of using prepositions in your native language and English and the fact that in many cases they don’t translate directly from one language to another. To make matters worse, in some languages prepositions do not exist at all. Also, there are differences not only in the choice of prepositions, but also in whether a preposition is used at all. Even languages that are relatively not so different from English (e.g., Romance languages, such as French, Italian, German or Rumanian or Slavic languages, such as Polish, Serbian or Russian) may also have challenges with prepositions. And for the same reason – in English prepositions are often used in idiomatic way, rather than governed by grammatical rules or “logics.”
  2. Record preposition usage. Become a “language Sherlock Holmes.” When you read books, newspapers or your co-workers’ e-mails, record preposition usage in a separate file or note-book. Make a list of preposition usage in a sentence. Use a good dictionary to understand their meaning.
  3. Practice. Once you have a list, repeat aloud prepositions in sentences.

So keep these three points in mind, and you will dramatically increase your conversational English. 

One final thought. Keep in mind that sometimes words that look like prepositions, do not function as prepositions. For instance, go over, speak up, get along, or make up. These expressions are called phrasal verbs. Phrasal verbs have idiomatic meaning which means that the meaning of two words together does not correspond to the meaning of component words.

Strong accent can have an enormous impact on how people are perceived. In a University of Chicago study, it was found that people with  non-native accents are perceived as”  less credible” than those with native accents.
Many non-native speakers understand this  and  believe that it is pronouncing sounds correctly that will help to make themselves understood and  to make their point. 
This is true but my  advice to you – don’t focus just on difficulties you have with some sounds.  In many  cases, intonation is much more important.
Take so called tag questions.
Tag Questions, or, questions tags, are short phrases that change a declarative statement into a question .For example, “You are Vanessa Del Monte, aren’t you?”,  “aren’t you?” is the tag question.
Just as in many languages, tag questions are more common in everyday spoken conversational English including its business variety. However, in English, different intonation or music in tag questions, carries different meaning.
Two examples of the same statement “You are moving to New York, aren’t you?”: 
      1)     with falling intonation, “aren’t you?” implies that you are sure of something and looking for confirmation.  (I am sure that you are moving and I want your confirmation)
      2)      with rising intonation, “aren’t you?” expresses uncertainty. (I am not sure you moving and I want an answer) . Although a sentence may be grammatically correct and pronounced correctly, the wrong intonation of a tag question may convey unintended meaning.
Consider the following situation involving an ELL and ESL learner.  While on a date at a restaurant you say, “You like this restaurant, don’t you? With rising intonation, “don’t you?” sounds like you are asking if she likes it. However, with falling intonation don’t you? sounds like you are telling her to like it. What do you think her reaction will be?  Right, you guessed.  This could be your last date with this person.
Consider another situation. You are planning a one day vacation and you ask your colleague to cover your desk for a day. “You will cover my desk, won’t you?”  With rising intonation, it will sound as if you are politely asking for help.  With falling it will sound as an order or assignment which you are not  authorized for anyway.
What will it do to your relationship?  You’re right again.  Nothing good.
 
To summarize, be careful when using tag questions.  Their intonation may send a wrong message.
Cultural values often govern how people perform,  react to aspects of their work, and interact in the workplace.

What are cultural values? There are many definitions of cultural values.  Many scholars define values as consciously and subconsciously held set of beliefs and norms – often reflected in the morals, laws, customs, and practices of the society. Simply put, cultural values are the basis for establishing a system of moral principles governing the appropriate conduct within the culture.

Because of increasing diversity in the American workplace, successful mangers and employees need to understand how cultural values play out in the workplace. Consider this example.  An American and Asian employee were assigned to a particular project.  Their manager critiqued their work. The American employee spoke up in defense of his performance while the Asian employee remained silent.  The manager may mistake the Asian’s reaction to signify agreement or incompetence.  Since respectable assertiveness is valued in the American workplace,  the manager would likely think more highly of the American employee. The result could affect promotion opportunities.  The assertive employee is more likely to move up in his career than the Asian employee.
World Diversity Ship

World Diversity Ship

The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 – IRCA – protects foreign nationals from discrimination based on citizenship and national origin.  However, only US citizens, permanent and temporary residents, conditional permanent residents and asylees and refugees are protected from citizenship discrimination.

Although it is not illegal to ask questions regarding immigration status, hiring managers, recruiters, and human resource professionals should avoid asking questions in such a way that may be perceived as discriminatory and which may lead to discrimination claims with the US Department of Justice.

For this reason it is crucial to phrase questions in a way that will help minimize the risk of filing a discrimination claim with the US Departments of Justice.  Below are examples of two questions that employers commonly ask when interviewing foreign nationals or candidates perceived as foreign nationals.

  • Poorly Phrased Question: What is your visa status for work authorization?  Suggested QuestionWill you now or in the future require sponsorship for employment visa status?
  • Poorly Phrased Question: Are you a US citizen or authorized to work permanently in the US? Suggested Question Are you currently authorized to work in the US on a full-time basis?

Keep in mind that posing the question will not eliminate the risk of a claim to be filed, but it will surely minimize that risk.