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August 2012 Talking Points Newsletter

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People with heavy accents are viewed as less trustworthy.

Many have long suspected this could be true and sadly, it's now been confirmed by recent research out of the University of Chicago. Regardless of their origin, the heavier the accent, the less credible the person is deemed.

Scientists debate whether or not “accent-bias” is a learned behavior or simply the way humans are hardwired. Is it a question of prejudice, or is it a result of how the brain interprets auditory signals? The debate is divided into two camps. One argues that accent-bias occurs because of the level of difficulty it takes our brains to understand unfamiliar accents. The other camp believes it's due to a leftover function of a built-in survival kit. As the theory goes, early humans needed an easy way to quickly determine who would best know the ins-and-outs of their immediate environment and, as a result, how to surmount it. In other words, accent bias worked as a trust-gauge that created a natural inclination to believe members of one's own community rather than “outsiders”.

Communication and Diversity: Success is Inextricably Linked

Regardless of the reason for accent-bias, it's grossly unethical. There's simply no alignment between prejudice and the values and cultures Fortune 500 companies espouse. To compound matters, listening with a prejudicial filter is a show stopper for solving some of the most difficult, and costly, problems global organizations face: recruitment, talent engagement, succession planning, customer loyalty, and collaboration to name a few. Speaking with DiversityInc., author James Surowiecki makes the case that businesses that encourage opinions and ideas from people of different backgrounds deliver more viable and innovative solutions than businesses that have more groups of homogenous individuals. But it's not only a question of encouraging 'mind-share;' it's a matter of listening... filter free. Ameren Corporation's President, CEO and Chairman Tom Voss sums it up nicely, “To figure out things that require an innovative workforce, you need a diverse workforce that is operating at a very high level. Diversity plays such a key role in that. We really can't afford to have people holding back good ideas or for good ideas to be dismissed.” How are organizations encouraging employees to jump in and contribute?

Accent Comprehension: The Other Side of the Communication Street

As national correspondent Kevin Tibbles reported, (see the Accent Reduction Institute on NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams) “Communication is a two-way street. Sure there's a speaker, there's also a listener.” Some industries, in particular, are keenly aware of this: aviation, healthcare, and in addition, organizations with multinational workforces either operating or competing in global markets. One innovative way organizations are ensuring successful outcomes, be it landing a plane or landing a business contract, is through a communication development program that teaches a systematic approach to helping their employees “tune their ear” to unfamiliar accents. Called Building Bridges: Tuning Your Ear to Accents, this program helps members of a diverse workforce eliminate the need to ask their peers and customers to repeat themselves. Accent comprehension is a solution to the “What? What did you say?” problem that torments both speakers and listeners. It creates respectful and productive communication where everyone's voice is heard.

The Cost, in Dollars and Cents, of Effective Communication

We've presumed that communication, for better or for worse, affects the bottom line. But to what degree? According to a key finding of the Towers Watson 2009/2010 Communication ROI Study Report, companies that are highly effective communicators had 47% higher total returns to shareholders over the last five years compared to firms that are the least effective communicators. Recruiters understand this. That's why the number one sought after skill employers are looking for in 2012 is, you guessed it, verbal communication.

Improvements from better cross border communications

According to the article in The Economist, How Cultural and Communication Barriers Affect Business, almost two-thirds of respondents to a survey of 572 global executives think that better cross-border collaboration has been a critical factor in the improvement of their organizations' performance). Astoundingly, almost 90% believe that if cross-border communication were to improve at their company, then profit, revenue and market share would all improve as well. Imagine that! Increased profits, revenue, and market share simply by improved communication. The numbers speak for themselves. Collaboration = Communication = Business Success.

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