What are some of the core communication challenges faced by global tech companies, when outsourcing work from outside? In an insightful session at People Matters L&D Conference, Rob Szabo, Vice President of Learning Sciences for Learnship shared his experience on how communication excellence is of vital importance and what steps trainers or educators can take to improve communicative competence of the learners to prepare them for global conversations.
An adult education expert in Applied Linguistics, Rob Szabo talked about challenges companies come across in upskilling large teams in the area of communicative competence.
Understanding Applied Linguistics
Szabo uses a definition by Christopher Brumfit to best explain the concept of Applied Linguistics, “Applied Linguistics is the theoretical and empirical investigation of real world problems in which language is the central issue.”
When L&D teams and applied managers look at upskilling software developers and scrum masters etc, they are responding to a real world business challenge which can potentially be solved by using the science of Applied Linguistics. This empirical learning methodology helps with identifying what is happening and what is going wrong with communication and can further track ROI.
Communication Challenges in Indian context
Szabo admitted that there is a lot of competition in the outsourcing market and even though India has about 55% share of this market and is certainly worth a lot of money, it needs to work on its communication skills to stay ahead of the competition.
Considering that India is a complex country with multicultural and multilingual dynamics, Szabo says, “The fidelity in information transfer between the software development teams and the commissioning party, whether they are in America, Germany or UK is a challenge.”
He suggests India to invest in building communicative competence in a carefully tailored way in order to be able to defend its position on the global business platform.
Understanding Communicative Competence
Szabo believes that the concept of communicative competence goes way beyond the ability to accurately construct sentences in English Language in a way that it can be easily understood by the other party. He believes that it’s much more than just the grammar aspect of it, it’s about adapting to the person one is speaking to.
It’s about being mindful of the other person’s communication style, hierarchy, level of knowledge, subject specific knowledge and many other relevant aspects.
He emphasized on the socio linguistic competence and strategic competence to be key factors of communicative competence.
Social & Linguistic Competence - This means it is very important to take care of irony, humour, build coherent arguments and develop thoughts in a logical manner.
Strategic Competence - It is also a massive skill for example, making appropriate pauses and adapting to higher and lower hierarchies as per the needs and requirements of situations.
Szabo believes that for people new to the industry, acquiring these skills is the biggest challenge.
Ways to build Communicative Competence
Szabo suggests that when designing the curriculum in the space of communicative competence, trainers or educators must focus beyond the grammatical accuracies.
Szabo also pointed out that when companies make corporate upskilling plans in developing communication skills, it is very important to keep in mind that it is a ‘multicausal’ phenomenon.
Biggest communication challenge for Indian tech specialists on global projects involves vocabulary, accent and cultural differences.
The areas of Corporate Communication and Project Based Communication should also be dug into to identify the causes of slips and failures in communication at multiple technical levels.
Phonological differences also pose considerable challenges in communication. People speaking different languages have different intonations, emphasise or stress on words differently. This also causes a big problem in understanding technical concepts where one has to observe different things at the same time like arguments, multi-causal statements etc. Phonological differences need to be noted and addressed in learning interventions.
Szabo also believes that non-linguistic features like politeness norms and gestures are also vastly different meanings for different countries, indifference or inattentiveness to which can lead to an Indian speaker overcompensating for unintended meanings. This proves to be an irritant in forming good communicative exchanges.
In written communication, lack of adherence to salutations, proper format and use of colloquial language appear as rude and impolite in India. While in some parts of the geography it’s completely alright.
So, to be able to effectively communicate with each other, both parties must find a way to speak with one another, and develop a sense of what to say, when to say, how to say.
Szabo advises communication curriculum designers and trainers to focus on the phonology aspect of communication sounds, including the segmental and suprasegmental features.
He also believes that task-based or role-plays based learning can help trainers identify faulty communication patterns.
Communicative Challenges in the technical domain can be overcome by improving both communication and comprehension skills. Therefore, this also leads to development of self-awareness, understanding and learning powers to communicate in a much better way.