It can be challenging for our intended communications to be interpreted faithfully by their recipients, even when these persons are similar to us in most respects. Add to this the fact that we tend to interact with a wide array of individuals, including those with different professional, educational, cultural, racial and generational backgrounds and the potential for misunderstanding expands dramatically.
Miscommunication risks can be mitigated by increased familiarity and experience with others. If we are diligent and perceptive, we can develop a clearer understanding of others' intentions and meanings (and others with our's) over time. This requires focus, perceptiveness and repetition, and also an acceptance that we will likely need to do some "repair work" along the way.
For those persons who deal with others on a more limited, transactional basis, this learned, shared understanding is not really an option. Thus, in these instances, it is wise to strive to be especially sensitive to cultural differences that can contribute to possible communications gaps. I am not suggesting that we should strive to be politically correct, as proponents of political correctness don't truly seek to understand others. Rather, I am advocating that we seek to discern verbal and non verbal cues in others' communications. These can be part of the overall message they seek to transmit to us.
For instance, my son David is a business development representative for a software company. In his role, he contacts Java programmers and developers around the world to seek to interest them in his company's programming productivity solution.
He recently shared with me his observation that Indian programmers seem to be reluctant to say "no" to his proposals, even in instances where he concludes that they don't intend to transact a deal with him. He wanted to understand this in order to avoid investing unnecessary time on prospects he realistically should not expect to be able to convert.
As a result of this observation, he did some research and learned (at the risk of generalizing) that in Indian culture, there is a reluctance to be disagreeable. This can cause some of his programmer prospects to say no to him, but in different ways than an American would typically expect. As a result, David is now more attuned to the signals these prospects send him and can better decide how to react. He has also shared his learning with his co-workers for them to consider when dealing with their respective prospects.
While it is beyond the scope of this newsletter to discuss this topic at greater length and detail, for now, it is sufficient to suggest that each of us should aim to be perceptive listeners when communicating with others whose backgrounds are different from our own.
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