All posts by Tom Verghese

Correct Pronunciation Matters

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How often do you meet a new person and have difficulty remembering their name?

What do you do when you can’t pronounce a name?

How do you ask a person how to pronounce their name without coming across as rude?

These questions came to mind as I was working with a mining organisation last week. I met a South African person who came to Australia a few years ago to work on a Queensland mine.  His name is spelt as ‘Dawid’ and pronounced as ‘Dahwid’.  Shortly after arriving in Australia Dawid realised that his colleagues were referring to him as ‘David’ in their verbal and more formal communications.  Dawid gave his name great thought, questioning whether he should simply change his name to David to make life easier for those around him and to assist him to ‘fit in’ to life in Australia.

As our lives become more globalised we find ourselves encountering people with unfamiliar names more and more.  Correct pronunciation and remembering unfamiliar names can be both challenging and anxiety provoking; it isn’t as though we can turn to a dictionary or ask others for help when we are ‘in the moment’.

Correct pronunciation of names demonstrates respect and cultural awareness, it can guide our first impressions, judgements and biases.  Foreign names, differing order of names, multiple family names, accents and dialects are just some of the name challenges that we need to successfully navigate.

Some name pronunciation tips are:

  • When you are initially introduced, try to use the name within the first few minutes of your meeting.  Ask the person to correct you if you mispronounce their name.
  • Keep your tone casual and friendly if you are making corrections.
  • When you find yourself wanting to correct a mispronunciation, try simply restating your name. It will assist the other party to remember and correct any mistakes on their behalf.
  • Remember that your name is possibly equally as difficult for them to pronounce, so help them. Give your name phonetically, as well as the spelling and remind them that they should feel free to ask you for any help remembering or pronouncing your name.
  • Show curiosity.  Ask people the story of their names.  In many cultures names have a meaningful background and are steeped in tradition. Not only does this create a dialogue but it will also help you to recall their name in the future.
  • Speak up early if you have trouble.  If you can’t pronounce or remember a name don’t let time pass; remember it becomes even more difficult as time goes on.

As Dawid decided to keep his birth name, he highlighted to me the impact that the mispronunciation of his name had for him.  Mispronunciation can appear insignificant on the surface, but can have far reaching consequences that you may never be aware of.  Be mindful that expectations, bias and credibility can all be damaged by name mispronunciation. The reality is that we are never going to pronounce names correctly all of the time, and occasionally we will forget a person’s name; but by demonstrating our efforts through some simple questions and behaviours we have a better chance of succeeding.  This can go a long way to improving first impressions and long-term relations.

How to secure trust when procuring across borders

Trust is the foundation of all good relationships. When sourcing across borders and cultures, the key variable between a successful and unsuccessful procurement strategy is trust. Trust includes reliability, truth, honesty, credibility, competency and predictability. If it is absent, commitment wanes and frustrations, misunderstandings and missed opportunities ensue.

Procuring across borders: Do you have trust on your side?

All cultures value trust, the difference lies in how it is developed, sustained and repaired – or not. Although some of the strategies for building and maintaining trust are universal such as delivering on what you promise, there are others that are culturally specific; there is no ‘one size fits all’, particularly in terms of relationship-based cultures. There are both subtle and comprehensive differences between countries such as India and China, Australia and Germany for example.

The necessity for establishing trust when procuring across national borders include the following:

  • Tap into and connect with new markets
  • Increased reliability of people ‘on the ground’
  • Increased brand loyalty within new markets
  • Increased speed and on-time delivery
  • Greater sharing of knowledge and expertise
  • Focus and commitment especially when things go wrong

We intuitively know the common beliefs and values that are held in our local markets; such as the appropriate balance of personal versus business conversations, appropriate and inappropriate behavior, how to address people and so on. But the rules change instantaneously as we pick up the phone or engage in meetings or teleconferences that involve crossing cultures and borders. In this moment we need a heightened level of awareness and flexibility in order to adapt our communication and behavioural styles to ensure that they are appropriate to that current cultural setting. This new cultural setting may even occur without you leaving your office.

Strong, trusted relationships with local people provide many opportunities, one of which is a ‘right-hand’ person.  They offer not only greater access to understanding your customer/client base, their needs, preferences and desires; but also can be a valuable sounding board for cultural knowledge and etiquette. Local contacts can act as intermediaries, performing a significant role in establishing trust amongst local suppliers through introductions. They can open doors, offer connections within local networks and ‘lend their reputation’ to build trust with others. 

Strategies for Building Trust Across Cultures:

  • Be open to new experiences and situations.
  • Be prepared to have personal discussions about family etc; sometimes your conversations may not include work discussions at all.
  • Provide as much data and information as possible when working in unfamiliar cultures.
  • Spend some time learning about the culture. Read local newspapers, and make extra time for personal conversations.
  • Listen…especially to the tone of voice, to what is not being said and to the contexts of the conversations.
  • Pay attention to the non-verbal communication such as eye gaze, postures, tone of voice etc.
  • Consider finding an intermediary or go-between person. They can be valuable in terms of tapping into local networks, industries and introductions.
  • Engage in some cultural intelligence training.