Old-school methods key to fostering global relationships

In the age of digital connectivity, you can work collaboratively with colleagues in China in the morning, Skype at lunchtime with the team in Germany, and develop a plan in the afternoon for a launch in Brazil using digital channels that provide vast amounts of information.

In the age of digital connectivity, you can work collaboratively with colleagues in China in the morning, Skype at lunchtime with the team in Germany, and develop a plan in the afternoon for a launch in Brazil using digital channels that provide vast amounts of information.

This is the life of a global communications consultant. But is working in cyberspace enough to make you a seasoned global professional with insights that command respect?

Operating on the belief that digital relationships replace personal ones in fostering a cultural understanding of provincial nuances is risky business. While the ability to connect instantly without geographic constraints is assuring, experience suggests that real-life interactions are critical to getting it right in global communications.

I've been lucky to have spent much of my life abroad in multiple countries. This has provided me with a strong education about the cultures, history, and societal norms of a variety of locales and has taught me to be culturally sensitive and open to diversity. Cultural sensitivity, a key ingredient of global success, may be at biggest risk for those relying on digital connections to inform global strategies.

It's not the medium, but the way cyber products are used that matter. Teams should be trained on the benefits and limitations of digital tools in a global business setting. Even some major international corporations have failed at rolling out global campaigns that underestimated the importance of regional nuances.

Much can still be learned via old technology, so use the phone. Do not rely solely on email or social networking. Phone calls have their limitations, but they're a step closer to real-life communications. Team spirit, commitment to a project, and true partnership come through knowing a person and believing in his or her leadership, values, and expertise.

Remember you work with real people. Lead with empathy when managing projects in global markets. Talk to people on the ground. Internalize the learnings from these efforts to inform your approach and to understand the feelings of partners and teammates.

Lastly, travel. Gain experience the old-fashioned way. Digital connections can enhance experience, but they can't replace it. 

Natalie Murphy Córdova is VP of global at DNA Communications, a Weber Shandwick company.

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