Communication: The Key to Global Business Success
As the Founder and CEO of Alpha Translations, Michéle Hecken knows a thing or two about communication. Since 1994, her language service company has been specializing in the strategic management of translation projects for clients operating on a global scale. Feel free to contact Michéle at
I enable global communication for a living. By the very nature of my business, I work on a global scale. I help small businesses launch in foreign markets for the first time. I also partner with international corporations to manage their multilingual communications and provide coaching for their executives to become more culturally aware and adept.
In the 13 years I have been in business, I have arrived at many conclusions regarding national and international communication. And each time I reach a conclusion, I am proven wrong. There are so many hidden, unspoken rules. You can easily find yourself at the bottom of a pit before you know it. Here are a few lessons I have learned along the way:
It pays to speak your customer’s language.
In the 13 years I have been in business, I have arrived at many conclusions regarding national and international communication. And each time I reach a conclusion, I am proven wrong. There are so many hidden, unspoken rules. You can easily find yourself at the bottom of a pit before you know it. Here are a few lessons I have learned along the way: I started out in this business as a freelance translator. It was a natural progression to offer my clients the option of communicating in both English and German, the languages I speak. What a difference that service has made! For the first decade, my company grew entirely through word-of-mouth. I continue to ensure that my clients have the option of writing emails, receiving invoices, or speaking on the phone in either English or German. The more options my clients have, the more successful they become.
Never (ever, ever) underestimate the power of culture.
Cultures abound. There are national cultures, regional cultures and corporate cultures, to name a few. And, as much as we’d like them to, cultures don’t come with any “hard and fast” rules. With the steady influence of globalization, all cultures are in a state of continual adaptation. Because of these cultural influences, assumptions about how business is conducted can be very dangerous. I show my respect for my customers’ culture by taking the time to learn about their expectations, by asking a lot of questions and by adjusting my own approaches accordingly. This effort at the beginning of the relationship puts my customers at ease and lets me confidently negotiate without fear of offending my customer, making a fool of myself, or tripping over an unspoken taboo.
Seek to understand, and then seek to be understood
This phrase is borrowed from management guru Stephen R. Covey. It is a simple expression of a truth that is at the core of not only what I do, but why I do it. Yet it still took me a lot of time (and mistakes) to apply this truth to my own business dealings. I am a confident person and I know my business. I admit, sometimes this has led me to be cocky, certain that I knew what my clients needed best. Not so. My clients know best what they need. Perhaps they don’t understand how the translation process works, but they do know what results they are expecting. I have learned to let silence fill the gaps, instead of trying to explain, persuade and educate. I also ask questions now, instead of providing answers. It works wonders to genuinely listen and understand my clients’ perspective. They get exactly what they want. And me? I get a happy, loyal client.
For years, I thought I knew all the answers regarding effective communication. Now I have a different philosophy: Communication is tricky. It takes patience and practice. One thing I know for sure: The lessons I have learned translate into satisfied clients who trust my ability to understand their perspective and support them in accomplishing their objectives. And that’s great business.