It was while I was presenting a two day Leadership & Management seminar last week that I realised something about myself. I believe I had known this thing for a long time, but by verbalising it, it crystalised and became very clear to me.
I had involved the group in a discussion about communication skills, after all if you’re a manager and you can’t communicate effectively with your staff or team, how can you expect them to achieve the stated goals of your business or group? Part of the focus was on cross cultural communication and I mentioned the fact that it is difficult enough to achieve ‘mutual understanding’ within our own cultures, let alone achieve it when involved in cross cultural discourse.
(‘mutual understanding’ can only be achieved when the sender of a message understands that the receiver understands exactly what it is that the sender is wanting the receiver to understand and further, that the receiver understands that their understanding is what the sender meant for them to understand. Got it? Good!)
As the discussion developed I recounted an anecdote from my own experience which went along the lines that, before I arrived in Viet Nam and took up my position with RMIT I naively assumed that, as RMIT Viet Nam is a campus of an Australian university, there would be a considerable number of Australians as part of the academic staff. How wrong I was because the in first office in which I was housed along with another 25 or so people I was the only Australian.
My fellow staff members were from Scotland, Ireland, France, Holland, Canada, New Zealand, Viet Nam, Viet Kieu (Vietnamese foreigner) from Canada and The United States and Korea. Achieving ‘mutual understanding’ in the classroom and in dealings with Vietnamese in every day life is very difficult and it was often just as difficult among my colleagues.
While working in the office and even now when I spend time with my foreign legion of friends, it is nearly impossible to make a simple comment based on my own past experience as it usually necessitates a full and sometimes complicated explanation to arrive at any understanding at all. This goes both ways of course as I often cannot understand a statement based on a colloquialism or experience from another country.
The result of this impasse is that I often find it easier to retain my own counsel and not take part in any discourse at all, but of course that is quite impractical and cannot work most of the time. The result is, and this was the revelation that hit me like a smelly wet fish during the seminar discussion, that at the end of each day I generally find myself exhausted. The seemingly simple process of communication with my fellow man in any meaningful fashion is tiring in the extreme and I also realised that the frustration of not being more easily understood has often led to bouts of downright anger and depression.
I’ll be keen to discover how I cope when trying to communicate when back in Australia. The question is, will anybody there understand me any more and will I understand them?