LIGC Final Blog Post – Language Barriers

In today’s final simulation, titled “Tip of the Iceberg”, I learned the impact of language barriers when working on a team. In this simulation, I was placed on a team with three other members and we were each given a unique role— either CEO, Director of Community Outreach (COM), Finance Director (FIN), or Director of Operations (OPS). The CEO and OPS were the two designated native English speakers while FIN and COM were the nonnative English speakers. We participated in two rounds of the simulation, and each round required us to answer a series of four open-ended presentation questions within a fifteen minute time frame. We were not allowed to communicate with each other verbally, but rather only through the simulation’s specialized chat function. The scenario of the first round made us employees of a tech company called ShineTech. We were required to explain why our company’s new solar-powered speaker system was worth investing in and where we wanted our target audience. The second scenario made us employees of a water filtration company called SafeWater. We were required to explain where we wanted to target our initiative and why our initiative should be funded.

My role in the first scenario was daunting— CEO. As CEO, I held a lot of responsibility because I was the only one able to submit the final responses to each question. I needed every member’s input because everyone had unique, unshared information. I relied heavily on the information provided by OPS, the other native English speaker, which exposed my bias towards familiarity. My only strategy was to unpack each question sequentially and subsequently seek confirmation for my answers. Initially, it was frustrating because the responses from the nonnative English speakers were delayed and not decipherable. During the debrief, I was informed that this was due to a typing restriction placed on the nonnative speakers’ chat function. In the second round, I was OPS, and our team’s outcome was much more successful. We utilized the information we discussed in the debrief to our advantage. The emojis and use of short phrases especially proved to be helpful. 

As a native speaker in both rounds of the simulation, I learned a valuable lesson about patience. When working with colleagues whose native language is not English, extra time should be considered when communicating with them. The language barrier should be acknowledged and accounted for because rushed, impatient conversations are not productive. In real-world settings, this is a realistic objective, as an intimidating fifteen minute countdown timer is usually not present in the workplace. I learned other tips for improved communication such as being explicit, concise, and limiting open-ended questions. Using short-phrases and yes or no questions are especially helpful. Active listening and checking for comprehension is another essential quality here. By repeating back to them what you took away from their input as well as ensuring that they understood your input mitigates miscommunication magnificently. Some other tips we discussed in class for efficient global collaboration were clearly establishing the process, having multiple forms of communication, and seeking everyone’s input individually. Establishing the process, goals, and objectives can clear up any confusion on a team. Having multiple forms of communication is helpful as well. Text-based conversations alone are not the most efficient way of communication when working with a global team because there is more room for error and things like body language are missed out. Seeking everyone’s opinion is important, specifically on a global team, because nonnative English speakers are likely to be more hesitant to chime into discussion. 

Something I will start and continue doing in my leadership is creating psychologically-safe environments where everyone feels comfortable giving their input. When working on a team, everyone’s opinion is relevant, and no one should feel like they are being excluded. I will seek input from everyone in order to create more balanced decisions. Some things I will stop and change in my leadership are being discouraged by conflict and making biased decisions. This course taught me how healthy conflict and debate is a positive thing which should be encouraged. Debating on both sides of a decision lessens the chance of making a biased decision. Another tactic I will use is obtaining an unbiased point of view before finalizing any decision. 

Overall, Leadership in a Global Context has taught me valuable leadership skills which I can realistically apply to my life in the future. The use of simulations in this course exemplified the “learning by doing” philosophy and proved to be extremely beneficial to the learning process. Instead of simply being lectured on how CEOs behave, I became one through the simulations. Working on teams, making quick decisions, adapting to the unique environment of the simulations— these are all meaningful experiences which I will take away from this program. Before this program, I never thought of myself as a naturally-gifted leader, but I came to realize that leaders come in many different forms; being a leader doesn’t mean being the most flamboyant person in the room!

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