Research and Thought Leadership

Why does communication matter? Your regional offices may have different answers

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Global organizations have a clear imperative to foster effective communication, both internally within teams and externally with clients and suppliers.   

But a recent study has revealed a frequently overlooked detail: that each geographic region prioritizes communication for different reasons.   

Surveying over 1100 HR and L&D leaders working in multinational companies as part of our language impact series, here is what we found about motives for communication. 

Key findings

East Asian regions have a more interpersonal approach to communication, focusing on in-person interactions, group training, and relationships. 

Latin American regions put language at the heart of their communication goals, prioritizing language learning and inclusion. 

European regions have a stronger tendency to focus on workplace culture rather than language when it comes to communication goals.

Businesses greatly underestimate the benefits of language training. 

Communication affects each global region in a unique way

What is your rationale for advocating effective communication in your organization? Chances are, your answer is dictated by your cultural background. 

Top communication challenges per region

In East Asia, face-to-face interactions and relationship building are at the core of communication goals. In Japan, the top challenge with international collaboration is the lack of face-to-face contact, impacting 40% of respondents (versus 25% global average). For comparison, the rest of the world is on average mostly concerned with basic miscommunication (39% fear misunderstandings) rather than face-to-face contact (25%).

Elsewhere in East Asia, China displays a particular sensitivity to communication issues, with almost 10% higher concern around both external and internal communications than other regions - up to 97% indicate impact on client or team relationships.

Graph showing top challenges with cross cultural collaboration

Goals and perceived benefits of communication per region

Another indicator of relationship-focused communication in East Asia is expressed in positive outcomes; for respondents in China, the top benefit of cross-cultural collaboration is improved internal processes, indicated by almost 60% of those surveyed (compared to the 41% global average).  

This perspective is clearly not universal. Elsewhere in the world, performance and innovation are instead the key goals for communicating effectively. A significant majority cite problem-solving and new ways of working as the top benefits of international collaboration in the US (56%), UK (56%), and UAE (63%). 

Graph showing greater business development success from cross cultural collaboration

Where does language rank highly as a communication priority?

Enjoying the benefit of being a native English-speaking country, the UK does not rank language among their top communication challenges. They are the least likely to solve communication issues with language training (15% of companies in the UK offer none, in comparison to the global average of 4%), and instead cite a diverse company culture as the top benefit of working with global teams. In other words, in the absence of language as a core driver of communication, culture becomes the key consideration. 

On the other hand, Latin American puts language and inclusion front and center in their communication goals. In Brazil, for example, differing language proficiency is reportedly a far higher issue than the global average, while 42% show concern that their employees will have low morale without proficiency in the company’s core language (against the 29% global average). 

For other regions, English is not the focal language for communication. In France, companies are less likely to offer English training (55% vs. the global average of 79%) and demonstrate a below-average concern around proficiency disparities. This is consistent with the trend that European countries focus on communication from a cultural rather than linguistic angle. 

Does language and communication training help?

For L&D professionals, strategies to develop global teams are impacted by these regional differences and trends. 

China, for example, demonstrates a preference for in-person language and communication training – 68% against the global average of 49% - in line with the relational focus of the region. Brazil, meanwhile, is the most likely to offer training online, keeping accessibility at the forefront.  

Graph showing different types of language training offered.

Reported success metrics reflect the same priorities. Japan reports improved staff engagement (a relationship-focused metric) as the top benefit of developing their people’s language skills. The UK’s highest ranked benefits are related to company culture; engagement, retention, and diversity. Brazil, being the most invested in language training as the key driver of communication overall, reports blanket improvements in every area of the business. 

Whatever the regional focus, language training has wider positive outcomes than most businesses expect. Our study found that companies that do not offer language training greatly underestimate the business-related benefits – such as market expansion – compared to the reported experience of those that already offer language training.  

A regional approach to communication strategies

What we can all agree on is that communication matters. To foster a culture of communication, therefore, it is important to understand how your people differ according to region. This will help you take an intentional, personalized approach to their care and development.   

For large organizations, there’s no such thing as ‘out-of-the-box’ solutions. Each company has unique challenges, and specific regions to cater to. Moreover, communication itself is a fluid concept, driven by people and culture. It is the task of L&D leaders across the world to unearth the communication nuances within their organization and find a training provider that can customize according to the diverse needs of their people. 

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