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Key Communication Skills for Expats Working in Africa

Entrepreneurs understand the importance of communicating clearly and accurately.  Each step of the way in their business life they must be certain that they are being understood.  Writing clear and accurate business plans and persuasive proposals is an essential.  Verbalizing brand strengths and differentiating it from the competition in compelling language is a must in to attract partners, investors and clients.  All along the way entrepreneurs are the upfront communicators in their business. Expats working in Africa often find themselves in the same position.

 Expats Communicate Well

Their energetic, risk taking personalities often compel them into the limelight.  Often standing out there alone.

Their drive and communication skills have served them well in their home country, but the African environment presents new challenges.    If they step off the airplane assuming they know how to communicate well, they may do themselves and their business great harm.

 Expats Working in Africa – Adapt English to Local Usage

 For starters, even though an increasing number of Africans are fluent in English, it is not the first language of many.  There is plenty of room for misunderstandings and such errors can be costly, either to an entrepreneur’s bottom line and reputation.

The Expat entrepreneur must learn to use simpler vocabulary and slow down when speaking.  The trendy, insider entrepreneurial jargon may have not caught on in the African country where he is locating.  Every trade and retail line has its own keywords and expressions, but they often differ from one country to the next.  The expat must be alert to these differences and employ the vocabulary from the new host country.

While slowing down his speech, the expat should make sure to not come off as talking down to African counterparts.  This is a tricky manner.  Attempting to speak at a pace that is easily understandable may require the expat to make adjustments for the varied English abilities of of clients and partners.

Trying to copy the particular English cadence and accent of the local people may seem like a good idea, but feeble attempts at replicating it may come of as macking or making fun of them.

 Consider Learning a Local Language

 If the newly arrived entrepreneurs envisions staying in Africa for six months or longer, he would do well to learn a language that is spoken in the region of the country that he will be working.  There are well established language schools and tutoring services available to help with trade languages such as French, Arabic, and Swahili.  Local vernacular can be acquired by hiring a personal language helper or tutor.  Learning these local languages will go a long way in raising trust and respect among the locals.

 Master the Non-Verbals

 While appropriate verbal communication can be a challenge, non-verbal communication is fraught with even greater risk of cross-cultural misunderstanding.  Looking someone straight in the eye is not always interpreted as engaging someone for good.  A firm handshake may mean anything but acceptance.  Whistling may be a demonstration of peace to an American, but to some Africans it is a sign of arrogance.  Honking may be rude back home, but a courtesy in some parts of Africa.  There are no manuals that one can consult to get these gestures right.  Observation or orientation by those in the know are the only way to learn how to negotiate the non-verbal mine field.

Africa Mentor can assist expat entrepreneurs in acquiring the essential communication skills that will contribute to their success in their endeavors in Africa.