Coach’s Challenge for 5/10/10

Good day, team,

This week’s challenge is about trying to communicate with people who don’t speak the same language we do and how we manage to get our message across even when we don’t understand the words.

Over the past few weeks, we have had friends visiting from France, and I have been reminded again of how important it is to spend time with people foreign to us. It’s so easy to think that the way we think and live are the same all around the world. People from elsewhere show us new ways to see and do things.

One of our guests doesn’t speak English, and my French is very elementary, so it’s been challenging to communicate. I’ve found myself relying on gestures and tone of voice to get my messages across. It’s been fun to attempt new French words by stretching my brain to find any kind of Latinate word that might be the root of an English or French word we’re trying to speak to each other. Surprisingly, many words in the two languages appear similar, but their pronunciations are so different that they’re unrecognizable.

Nevertheless, as human beings, we are masters at using every possible skill we possess to be understood. Last evening, I found myself making the motion of digging a trench to explain how we might dig up some dirt in the garden. And this morning, I was making the sound of bacon cooking to try to explain part of the breakfast menu. Along with these antics come much laughter and embarrassment: We are used to understanding and being understood without trying. But the truth is, we often communicate something very different than the words we are speaking.

When we have to rely on gestures, facial expressions and tone of voice, we realize how much we communicate nonverbally. How many times have you sat in a business meeting and heard someone saying one thing while his or her facial expressions convey a very different sentiment?  Isn’t it interesting that, even over the phone, when someone stops listening to you, you can feel it? When my daughter-in-law tells my grandson, “Owen, you need to pick up your toys,” she uses a different tone the first time she says it than the third time. The words may be the same, but Owen finally realizes that he’d better pick up his toys this time or he’s going to be in trouble.

This week, notice your gestures, your tone of voice, and your facial expressions when you communicate. Do you use your hands a lot when you’re trying to emphasize something? Maybe your tone of voice becomes very different when you’re trying to communicate a sense of urgency. Pay close attention to the communication styles of the people around you. Does their tone of voice change depending on who they’re dealing with or what they’re attending to? Perhaps you see that peoples’ communication becomes more relaxed when they’re with their own team or their friends compared to when they’re with people they don’t know as well.

Whatever the case, try seeing how consistent you are in your communication. Do your facial expressions represent the same message that’s coming out of your mouth or are you sending out mixed messages? Are you using the right words to convey your message? How do you know if people actually understand you? You may find yourself resorting to the sort of charades I did last evening, acting out digging a trench, but if it helps others understand you and it’s more fun, why not try a new way to get your message across?

Have a good week!

Kathleen

Kathleen Doyle-White
Pathfinders Coaching
(503) 296-9249

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