We like to think we’re good communicators – and sometimes we’re rather quick to identify others who aren’t, aren’t we?
Wouldn’t it be great if – in every work conversation – there was abalanced pace, mutual understanding, broad cooperation and seemingly few egos but no less personality?
This is why I love working with international participants in workshops. To clarify, I’m talking about my experiences when English is the second language compared to when it’s everyone’s first.
What can we learn from this dynamic?
Whether it’s sharing feedback about each others’ Presentation Skills, talking cultural differences or financial technical skills, the topic doesn’t seem to matter – there’s simply a wealth in the exchanges. It’s noticeable when a non-native English speaker is in a room of native English speakers. The non-native may hold more command.
It can be noticeable too how a native English facilitator may in fact facilitate better in such a setting. Of course, it takes more attention, concentration and patience to steer between accents to seek out meaning.
What is it about non-native English conversations?
These characteristics may be distinctive:
Articulating as clearly as possible
Aiming to be understood
Giving examples to illustrate
Using multiple descriptions to make explanation easier
Being honest and specific
Checking – verbal and non-verbal – signals to verify understanding
Attentive eye contact to notice changes in attention and mood
Pauses between phrases, to think and plan next sentences
Willingness to be challenged and to clarify
Seeking to understand what the person is saying and why
Treating the person as if they have something important to offer
Not abruptly interrupting to impatiently make a point
Seeking to understand misunderstandings
Eagerness to avoid incorrect assumptions
Interrupting graciously to ask for clarification to enhance understanding
When it’s not their first language, people aren’t trapped by the false (British English) politeness nor the mammoth vocabulary that accompanies it. It’s refreshing to hear direct statementssuch as
I don’t think
I don’t like
It’s good that..
There’s no offence taken in the simple sharing of honest thoughts but a gratitude for the clarity.
After these conversations, people seem more tired – following intense periods of concentration. Yet theambience is more united, respectful, calm, clear and energised. They haven’t taken many notes but have retained necessary information. Plus there’s an air of learning, not just talking.
There are plenty of biases at play in any setting. So this is merely observation – without even the backing of study or science. And many may have quite different experiences.
What changes could we make?
In a meeting, by telephone, or by email – might we adopt such approaches when we seek better quality conversation and to speak the same language by :
1. Listening to understand
2. Speaking to be understood
3. Listening and speaking further – to clarify
Shouldn’t we avoid talking from the perspective of our prioritiesor project, department or business function, specialism or technical skills? But listen hard to garner as much as possible from others – in order to make the best contribution and decisions?
It may mean we:
We speed by in our multi-channel, multi-gadget lives – often not giving due attention to any one thing. Perhaps multi-cultural working reminds us that we should?
By helping someone to understand us and to understand them – without assuming that we already do we could avoid sounding double-Dutch.
Ironically, non-native English speakers say “I worry about my English!” Perhaps so should we?