by Mark Kolke
Communication is easy!
Being understood, another matter.
Speaking on a stage, asking directions on street corners or answering questions at a job interview – we are all in the communications business.
Communication comes in two forms – effective and not effective; two more forms – one-way or two-way; two more forms – public and private. And a few more: communication, on public airwaves (TV, Cable, Satellite, Radio) print media (newspapers, magazines, junk mail) and the internet (websites, blogs, emails, SPAM) – all one-way communications – someone is shouting to get your attention, your eyeballs, and your business.
And, more communication – two-way kind, emails, texts, phone calls and talking with someone is, to quote Charles Dickens, “it is the best of times, it is the worst of times”.
That’s a lot of communicating – but is it effective?
Did we say what we wanted to say? Were we understood?
Were we heard clearly, were we cared about, did we matter?
These are important questions when parents talk to children, wives to husbands, when neighbours solve a problem, when businesses work together or compete, when preachers preach, and congregations congregate.
Where we break down most is in communicating with people who are different. They look different, sound different, and we don’t know them.
The obvious – when people have a different first language, race, culture, and homeland. Too often these commonalities keep us insular when we might otherwise build relationships, bridges and successes with others. This depends, I believe, on whether we build walls or bridges.
It ‘s hard to reach out to someone who is different. Communication across language and culture can be a difficult wall unless we treat those opportunities as doors to be opened.
I’ve often seen these issues magnified when dealing with people with disabilities – a field I’ve spent a lot of time in over last thirty-five years, because speaking with someone with an obvious physical and/or developmental disability seems uncomfortable at first – not because it is scary or dangerous, but because we expect we will have trouble communicating. Taken further, think about communicating with a Canadian First Nations person, or a homeless person. Seems scary too, at first, until you’ve tried it.
So what about you? When someone is different – their culture, language, race, religion – do they see you as hard to approach, difficult to communicate with, or are they just uncomfortable?
The answer, for most of us, is ‘probably’. Until we take a step. Until we offer a smile. Until we offer a handshake, a nod, a “hello”.
Most people – whether they’ve lived here all their lives or they are newcomers, see themselves as ‘easy to get along with’. We all often perceive others as ‘difficult to communicate with.’ Sometimes we are. Sometimes not. We don’t know until we try.
Start with a smile, a nod. Then a handshake offered, a greeting offered, speak: “Hello, how are you today, my name is __________. Could you help me please? Or, could I help you?”
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