Last week I had the opportunity to talk with several business managers, one an international business manager. He mentioned the term “FUD”.  When speaking with a national salesperson a few days later, I heard the same term, F.U.D.  When I asked for a definition, they explained that uncertainties and expectations might lead someone to make decisions about a person or item before the individual has fully researched it.

New Positions, Job Searches and Networking

Fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) enter into communication success when we walk into a room of strangers.  To allay these feelings, individuals often may make judgments and conclusion before they have even heard someone else speak.

What are they wearing? Is the other person someone of similar or different nationality or background?  They begin to make judgments about the other person’s communication patterns before the other person speaks.

First Impressions

A colleague of mine speaks Standard American English. She sounds like one of our broadcast journalists.  She is of Indian descent and was raised in the USA and Europe.  She does speak four other languages with appropriate pronunciation for each language.

At times, she has been mistaken as being of Latin descent with another person proclaiming that they cannot understand her because they immediately assumed that she would be speaking with a Spanish accent.  The other person made an “auditory” judgment because of a “visual” cue.  These are difficult to maneuver.

Team Communication

However, most international teams work to overcome these first impressions, especially during meeting and teleconferences.   What happens when they try three times and still do not fully understand their colleagues?   Uncertainty creeps in.

Team members may ask another familiar colleague to explain later or they may ask for repetitions.  If that doesn’t work, they ask more questions, ask for written data or set up more meetings.

Fear creeps in before following meetings.  Doubt creates distrust or passivity.   Work is delayed, incomplete or cast aside.  Time and Cost overruns ensue.


Siow Vigman, former CFO for Dr. Fresh, LLC and former CFO of Guitar Center, has more information in the Dec/Jan 2013 article, Global Challenges in Workforce Solutions magazine.

Strategies for Successful Clarity and Productivity

To avoid the Fear-Uncertainty-Doubt outcomes in multicultural communication, here are three strategies.

  • Establish a Global Mentoring program similar to one designed by IBM in 2008.  When team members have mentors from other cultures, they are more likely to have collaboration by increased cultural intelligence, accent and language familiarity.
  • According to a new study from Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, live face-to- face interactions demonstrated greater out put and increased trust.
  • The best communication is through repetition of ideas and in small segments.
    • Make plans to discuss three (3) simple ideas related to one (1) subject at a time.
    • Use written format before the meetings (emails): With the meeting and after the meeting for feedback and understanding.
    • Check-up and Follow-up with each participant and their mentors before and after the meeting.

If you have a telephone, you have had the experience of talking to a support center person or a sales person with an accent.  My mother, who is very hearing impaired struggles with this.   And….so do many of the managers and their international teams, who are not hearing impaired.  The phone is better than straight email.  It allows for flexibility of Q & A’s. Until, someone stops listening… Why?

Sometimes it feels like we are dealing with multiple “distortions” on these phone conferences. So, we move closer to the phone.  Then we have others speak LOUDER, s-l-o-w-er, ask for repetitions or clarification.

Finally we ask the other person or get asked, “Can you send me an email about that?” or worse, someone just …..Stops Listening.

And, no matter how valuable the information is – the other person is not “buying” our ideas.  The tenet for many in sales is:  “A confused mind never buys.”

Why do people seem to understand each other when someone is talking live and yet struggle when they are on the phone?

Several reasons.

1. When speaking face to face we subconsciously use facial gestures and body language that cues the listener on the emotional tone as well as (even small) gestures that indicated size and shape of what we are discussing. Also a speaker can subconsciously monitor the listener’s body language and modify their message if they observe confusion.   We cannot observe each other on the phone.  Even videoconferencing is difficult as we feel constrained to  one position. In person, our subconscious gives us lots of information, letting us modify and edit much quicker. We do not get that with phone call meetings.

2. We all know that Native English speakers have a much more difficult time understanding speakers of English as a second language (L2 English speakers) than do the L2 speakers seem to understand each other.  Why?  “Not because it’s less difficult

It is because they are already accustomed to paying attention for longer periods.  However, they still get confused as we get confused with the differences in the pronunciation; the dropped syllables (“Idee” for “Ide-a”) strange vowels, (“Tex” for “Takes), different stress patterns (“e-CON-o-mic” for “e-co-NOM-ic”), along with different sentence rhythms that we are accustomed to in native English.

Most L2 English speakers will not tell you that they do not understand.  Most Native English speakers do not tell the L2 speakers that they do not understand.  They each get off of the phone and complain.

GOAL: Get the information on the First Call.

STRATEGY: Avoid confusion:

(a) Send a full transcript of information and information requests (in sentences) of your side of the conversation. Have them send their response, also.
(b) Speak slower and use repetition.
(c) Simplify the number of topics to be in the phone call.  Keep it to 3 or 4 topics at most:  (d) Have only one, yes, just  (1), primary “call to action” per phone call.  – Teams from Asia often feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of “deliverables” that their Western counterparts demand.

And often the language of the requests is filled with colloquialisms that are unfamiliar to them. So…they get confused and do not “deliver”. When they successfully deliver two or three different times, then make it two “deliverables”.  You need them to perform, so break it into small bites.