How to handle the foreign accentNancy Friedmanphone etiquette, telemarketing, diversity It's more and more common to talk with people whose native language isn't our own. These accents can be both international and domestic. How many times have you talked with someone just from a different region of the United States and not understood them? Miscommunication is easy with anyone who's not speaking as we're used to hearing. Today, with more and more business going global, it's key to be ready to know how to deal with a foreign accent. Don't forget, sometimes it's us who have the foreign accent to others. To those from another country, we are the foreigners. So, these tips will go both ways, and theyre effective on the phone and in person. Taken from our video of the same name, "How to Handle the Foreign Accent," here are the five key tips to help you at your job (and in your personal life) when working with someone who is difficult to understand--accent or not. 1. Don't pretend to understand It's okay to gently explain that you are having a little difficulty understanding them. Let's face it, if you have an accent, you know it. So, it's not a surprise. One of the least effective things you could do when not understanding someone is to pretend you do. Some folks nod or say, "Okay" just to move the conversation along. That's not doing anyone any good. It's perfectly acceptable to simply and gently say, "I apologize. I am having a little difficulty understanding you. If you could slow down ... just a little bit ... I'll be able to get it all correct for you." That's the most important thing to the person with the accent: knowing you want to help and get it right. They're aware you might be having difficulty. And if you nod "yes" or pretend you understand, it won't help the situation at all. Your tone of voice is international, universal. So, keep it at a light, slower pace--and yes, smiling is also universal. They'll hear your smile in any language. The aforementioned statement is most effective and a key phrase to learn. I know it for a fact, and it is accepted very warmly. I've had many a person from other countries come up and thank me for sharing that technique with the audience. It apologizes, acknowledges, empathizes and creates credibility. It shows you want to help. 2. Don't rush Rushing threatens callers. Often there is a tendency to want to rush someone who speaks with an accent--not a good idea at all. Rushing threatens the best of us, let alone someone who is not able to express themselves in our style. Slow down--not to excess, of course. But if you find yourself constantly saying, "uh huh" over and over in rapid succession, you're probably rushing the customer. 3. Don't shout They are not hard of hearing. Many times, we subconsciously speak louder or repeat the same word, thinking that will help. It doesn't. People with accents normally hear very well. It's insulting to shout at them. Keep that smile on your face--it'll show that you have the patience to help--and keep trying to let them know that you are there to assist them. It might take some time, but it will help. 4. Don't be rude No one really thinks theyre rude. But if you've ever said, "Hey, I can't understand you," or even a short, terse, "Huh?" you're considered rude. Again, revert to tip number one and explain that you're having a little difficulty understanding. They'll often repeat themselves for you. If the situation is hopeless, and you're simply getting nowhere, dont be embarrassed or afraid to call for help. Perhaps another person can better understand what the customer is saying. But remember, being shuffled from one person to another is frustrating to anyone--accent or not. 5. Keep a job aid available Most often, we hear that 80 percent of the calls are from a certain area with the same accent, be it all Hispanic, Asian or European. If your job has you working with a large percentage of one accent, keep a few simple phrases in that language near you--short phrases that would let the customer know you're trying. If you're in a Hispanic environment, phrases like, "Un momento, por favor" (One moment, please) will help. Even if we mispronounce it, theyll understand. Hopefully, there is someone in your area who is either fluent or well spoken in one particular language and can help you formulate an effective work aid. Finally, remember what we said earlieryour smile is universal. Use it early and often, no matter whom you're talking to! Nancy Friedman is president of Telephone Doctor Customer Service Training in St. Louis and was a featured speaker at the NAMB 2005 Annual Convention and Exposition in Minneapolis. For more information, call (314) 291-1012 or visit www.telephonedoctor.com.