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How To Make Yourself Understood

Have you ever had those blank faces or confused expressions when you communicate with people at work? Sometimes it feels like you both speak a different language. Well maybe you do and if so here's what to do about it.

Friday 12 February 2016


By Mark Johnson

We recently returned from a 30 day vacation in Europe in search of a white Christmas but alas that didn't happen (that's a whole other story!).  What did happen however was a far more enriching experience and a heightened awareness of our expectations.

Let me explain . . .

We had planned our holiday to Europe in the 10 or so months leading up to departing.  We knew we would be travelling to 10 cities, in six countries and encountering at least four foreign languages and possibly another two local dialects. Now apart from high school French (me), German (my wife) and Italian (our children), we had no idea how to carry out a conversation in a foreign language unless we were asked to count to 10 or introduce ourselves.  So the idea of not being able to effectively communicate was a little daunting, but in true Aussie style we thought . . . no worries, she'll be right mate!

Our (my) presumption based on stories from other travelers was that we would always find someone who can speak English.  In most cases that presumption was correct, particularly in tourism / hospitality roles where many employees are multi-lingual or at least their colleague is.

The awakening for me was just how much I expected people to speak English (and understand the Aussie version) a little rude of me actually.  After all, I am in their country and in their workplace needing their help and yet I want them to speak my language.

One clear example occurred in a restaurant in Paris.  Having found other Parisians who could speak English we entered the large and crowded restaurant expecting at least one waiter to "parle anglais" or to have the option of a menu in English.  No such luck on either count.  They did however have Wi-Fi, so it was google translator to the rescue plus a variety of pointing, gesturing and poor attempts at French pronunciation.   

 

What's this mean for the workplace?

Upon reflecting on my experiences I related much of them back to the workplace and the challenges we face trying to communicate and be understood. Too often in the workplace (and relationships in general), we assume people will know what we are talking about.  We use too much jargon and "management speak".  We may think poorly of those who can't speak to us in our "language" or just don't seem to understand what we are saying.  Frustration creeps in and we may mistake their confusion for rudeness. The solution is simple . . . you must make an effort to communicate effectively.  I know you can Google "effective communication" and find a variety of communication hints, so in addition to those here are my seven tips to improve your interpersonal communications.  

  •  Learn their language If your background is human resources and you are talking to engineers, learn some of their terminology.  If you're from a legal background and you're talking with accountants, understand their jargon.  Keep a list of acronyms, abbreviations and jargon.  I'm not bi-lingual but a few key phrases helped me in Europe.
  • Speak to people in their "language" don't baffle people with terms which only you understand.  Even when I found someone in Italy who could speak English, it was useful to use a few words of Italian throughout a conversation.  
  • Find different words or media - if people don't understand what you have said, repeating it won't always help.  This is your problem, not theirs.  You need to find another way of explaining what has been said.  Pictures, diagrams whatever it takes.  On our holiday a map or picture worked a treat.  
  • Do your research - when you communicate with people from an industry with which you are unfamiliar, research what is important to them, recent events and issues.  Having researched the countries we were visiting, we could talk to locals about various sites or events and show them our interest.  
  • If you don't understand, ask - don't pretend you know what people are talking about.  Swallow you pride, get over your ego and ask them to explain.  On many occasions whilst holidaying we had to ask for further explanation.  This not only helped us understand what was said but provided a richer and less frustrating experience.  
  • Adapt your style of communication know the other person's personality or behavioural style and adjust your communication.  Do they like lots of detail or a little?  Do they like to get straight to the point or shoot the breeze?  One of our hosts in Italy loved to talk whilst our driver not so much.  We adjusted and enjoyed both interactions.  
  • Be patient showing your frustration over miscommunication only hinders the situation. 

If you're wanting to communicate more effectively and build workplace relationships, contact me direct at mark@intelligentperformance.com.au and we can discuss support and guidance.    


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