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Internships and other work experiences
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6.2 Professional communication

As outlined in Activity 4 earlier, it is important to communicate regularly with managers and co-workers. Do not be afraid of asking for explanations when tasks aren’t clear.

Difficult conversations

If you need to have a difficult or assertive conversation with a remote colleague, this can be tricky. You can’t just put your head around their door and ask for a quick word and, as you’ve already considered, tone can often be misconstrued in an email. The tactics listed below are based on those suggested by Markman (2019).

  • Create a sense of co-presence, which is the ability to feel as though you can interact effectively with another person. Using a video conferencing tool can be more effective than speaking on the phone. Also, try to ensure you are in an environment with limited distractions so the other person feels they have your full attention.
  • Have eye-contact if possible. Try to use your facial expressions and tone of voice to convey your attitude.
  • Be specific. Try to give specific demonstrations of problems and particular actions that someone can take to fix the problem. It can be helpful to refer to notes – that extra preparation can make all the difference.

Cultural sensitivity

Cultural sensitivity is important in any workplace, but the digital nature of virtual internships lends itself to working with overseas colleagues so it will be useful to be aware of any cultural differences. For example, in some cultures making eye contact is considered disrespectful and can be interpreted as a sign of dishonesty, whereas in others, making eye contact is seen as essential in building rapport.

You don’t need to have a detailed knowledge of different cultural norms but there are some steps you can take to maximise multicultural working relationships.

  • Ask your supervisor or line manager if there are any cultural differences you should be aware of.
  • Be aware of time zone differences and make sure you discuss how best to work around them.
  • Be careful about using humour to break the ice – this can backfire in a country where the workplace is more formal.