From language fluency to business professionalism

If nice smile and good writing skills used to be the strongest associations related to characteristics of public relations or communications professionals, the reality has been different for long. Today, corporate communications professionals are required with business knowledge and excellent “people skills”. They not only have to be competent in getting the corporate voice heard in and outside the organization but also in facilitating other business professionals to succeed in getting their voices heard in everyday interaction. In this article, I discuss the key competences of corporate communication professionals using the GCC (Global communicative competence) framework created by Louhiala-Salminen and Kankaanranta (2011). They suggest that GCC has three key components: multicultural competence, BELF (Business English Lingua Franca) competence and business knowhow.

“The competence of communication is not that much about getting heard but more about being able to listen.”

In today’s global and increasingly social economy, more flexibility and tolerance towards cultural differences and multiplicity of voices are needed for corporate communication to succeed (Louhiala-Salminen & Kankaanranta, 2011). Louhiala-Salminen & Kankaanranta (2011) propose that multicultural competence requires sociolinguistic and discourse competences. Being fluent in language and being able to communicate directly, clearly and politely are indeed valuable communication skills but that’s not enough anymore – communications professionals should also be able to adapt their communication into different cultural contexts and audiences. Thus, the competence of communication is not that much about getting heard but more about being able to listen: being polite, asking clarifying questions and being curios to understand and learn (Louhiala-Salminen & Kankaanranta, 2011). What’s more, communications professionals should have the characteristics to be able to promote discursive and tolerant communication culture to the top management of the organization, who should lead the culture to the same direction.

The increasing amount of multinational companies means that there are more and more non-native speakers of English trying to cope with a foreign language, to get their work done and to build business relationships. The language they use, the BELF (Business English Lingua Franca), doesn’t obey the grammar rules and structures of standard English, but is built around the “core” of English and the context-specific business vocabulary that the business professionals share (Louhiala-Salminen & Kankaanranta, 2011). Emphasizing BELF as a key competence of corporate communications professionals, Louhiala-Salminen & Kankaanranta shift the focus of successful communication from flawless language skills towards “getting the work done”. Competent communications professional would thus be able to encourage and facilitate employees to use corporate language as a shared resource, without having to feel discomfort for making grammar mistakes. On the other hand, communications professionals should be able to adapt their own language to the language proficiency of different audiences and also to increase the same capability of the native-speakers. The use of company-specific symbols, visuals and vocabulary could be means to foster this interaction with a shared language.

“The mastery of communication should be perceived as the ability to shift the focus from oneself to others.”

Louhiala-Salminen & Kankaanranta acknowledge business knowhow as inseparable from communicative competence. As previously stated, business-specific knowledge is needed to “speak the same language” within an organization: business is at the core of BELF. In general, business understanding is needed to be able to create value for business through communication expertise. Without it, corporate communications professionals risk falling to the position, where nice smile and writing skills are indeed enough to succeed.

My conclusion from the GCC framework of Louhiala-Salminen & Kankaanranta is that the traditional requirements for corporate communication professionals, such as language and writing skills, should be switched to broader terms defined from the business strategy point of view. With these broader terms, the competence of communications professionals has not that much to do with grammatical correctness and mastery of specific language systems. Instead, the mastery of communication should be perceived as the ability to shift the focus from oneself to others, to be able to empower and to facilitate interaction.


Louhiala-Salminen, L. & Kankaanranta, A. (2011). Professional Communication in a Global Business Context: The Notion of Global Communicative Competence. IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, Special issue on Professional Communication in Global Contexts, 54(3) September

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