Coaching and leading non-native English speakers

Most of us live in a bi-lingual world where we either speak more than one language or are communicating with people whose native language is not our own, and mostly, not English. Even if both speakers are English native speakers — there are variants of English to consider (e.g. “to table” something can mean “postpone” or “put on the agenda” depending on which variant of English you speak). As (I think) Mark Twain said: “A people divided by a common language”.

Here are some things to consider if you are coaching or leading people whose native language is not English:

  • Do speak a little bit more slowly at first, and gauge what speed is appropriate. Adapting is necessary because nothing is more annoying than someone who speaks too slowly — it also may sound patronizing if you are tooooo slow.
  • Don’t speak louder!!! I mean it. Don’t 🙂
  • Be careful with phrasal verbs (e.g. “push back” or “run into”) — explain when necessary
  • Don’t use sports metaphors — especially not baseball! Come on, US-Americans, who understands this game, anyway. Same with Cricket!?!
  • Ask a question, wait until there is an answer or a sign of non-understanding. If the person did not understand, rephrase (don’t rephrase before you are sure that the person did not understand)
  • Allow people to think in their own language — maybe use more silence in meeting for people to make up their own minds before they share
  • Make it ok not to understand and clarify
  • Embrace misunderstandings — “there is no understanding, only less and more useful misunderstandings” (so don’t do: “what I meant….” but just continue with the conversation as it is taking shape)
  • Use the other language as a resource — maybe there are metaphors or concepts that don’t exist in English that can shed light on aspects of the conversation

What are your tips and tricks when bridging a language divide in coaching and leadership?

Come to our free coaching meetup and exchanges to explore (they are usually a wonderful mix of international English speakers)

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