Being Understood Takes Work


Seth Godin’s recent post, Broken English, hit home with me as many people I have worked with professionally over the past 20 years speak English as a second language.  While I work in the United States, I have team members both here and in Europe, but interestingly, even with my US team members, I am the only one for which English is the native language. 

As a result I have indeed noticed there are nuances of speech, various sayings, and some words for which I cannot use if I expect to be understood. The goal of communication is not simply to communicate, but to be understood, otherwise the effort is wasted. This takes time and effort. It means we cannot just say something once and expect it to stick, especially if it is something of importance.

As we work to lead teams and get things done, it is vital that we communicate effectively.  This will mean figuring out first what is important enough to be communicated (we have enough noise already).  I fear that we may unintentionally create confusion about our message because we have too many of them. As the one doing the communicating, we have a responsibility to decipher what is important and make strategic choices about what we want our teams to focus on.  If there are too many competing messages and everything is important, that means that very little is actually understood and that nothing is really important.

Once we have done that we need to make sure what we communicate is indeed understood.  This will often require multiple forms, spoken and written, and often more than once.  While the message of what we communicate should be consistent, else we really confuse everyone, we should find different ways of saying the same thing. We should also ask questions to our intended audience to check or verify that they indeed do understand us. Too often I fear we just assume that they do.

Communicating with native English speaking people is hard work already, doing so with non-native English speakers requires even more attention.  It is work but it is important work.