Give the Gift of Communication

Walking in the Park

Last year when my husband and I really started becoming serious about planning our wedding, we knew the communication would be paramount for success. We both lived in Japan at the time, the wedding would be in the Puget Sound area of Washington State and family and friends would be coming from San Diego, Memphis, and New York, D.C. and beyond. Our wedding, we also quickly realized, was going to defy expectations of what a wedding is typical conceived as being in the average American mind. Our budget with travel to and from Japan simply didn’t allow for the big white wedding.

We literally planned a campaign. It was like a battle plan. We started with our parents and tasked them with easy to communicate messages, which we repeated ad infinitum for months, while asking them to repeat it to their friends and the family members talking to them about us. We laid out the base fundamental concepts we needed to communicate in the wedding invitations. We clarified the messages with siblings and wrote regular propaganda packed emails to the wedding party. Then as time grew closer, we set up a website.

Louvie Tucker at Starbucks in Takasaki Japan

Why did we do all this? Because we were not only bringing together a diverse and potentially difficult group, but we wanted it to be a success. It took ten months of planning and countless hours of writing and talking. It took clarification and a simplification of our vision. We chose people to help us who “got” the vision.

It would have never had worked if we hadn’t had two things. First, we knew,  very clearly, what we wanted, what was important and what wouldn’t matter. We made our requirements simple and were excited about anything else that came together. Secondly, we said it more than once. We repeated the vision until we felt like we were blue in the face. We pointed out the benefits not only to ourselves but to others and we answered questions and objections before they were raised.

If this was a letter to friends and family, I would go on about everything everyone did to help us and thank them, at length. They deserve it. But this is an article about communication. It meant everything to us. When people are stressed, when something as delicate as a wedding and bringing together strangers is at stake, clarity means more than good fuzzy feelings. The morning I left my parents house to meet the wedding party and go out to the location, I taped one last two page printed list to the front door with everything that everyone leaving before me needed to bring. I handed my father and every other member of the direct family a script, detailing not only where they needed to be and what they were doing but where everyone else was. I will not forget the look my father gave me holding the script. He said thank you and I hugged him. Communication can be such a precious gift.

Clarity yanked the stress out of the nuclear zone down into a general tolerance range. People weren’t afraid of offending me. And because the simple basics were known, so many people took initiative and over performed in their own areas.

Wedding Day

My wedding was amazing. There were little issues but nothing that marred the day, even when the site was rained out and we had to move it at the last minute. Everyone is still talking to each other. I’ll be forever grateful to so many people who helped and celebrated. And I’d like to think other people in the family will use the model for future events.

Plan a campaign. Simplify the message until its repeatable. Then repeat and repeat.

Communicating Through Barriers

More and more of us are finding ourselves in a position where we are trying to communicate with someone who doesn’t’ speak our language, or doesn’t speak it well. As we race into an ever increasing global 21st century, this isn’t a situation that’s going to change any time soon. Even with the massive amounts of English classes being pushed by governments and private companies around the world, language acquisition is a slow process and the quality of English spoken by non-native speakers is extremely variable, as are our own second language abilities.

Communication is still possible. Here are a couple of ways to approach situations with language barriers if an interpreter is not readily available.

Smile:

This is the best possible advice anyone can give you. People are more willing to work with someone who is relaxed and pleasant. They’re probably as worried as you are.

Whatever you do, raising your voice, using baby talk or getting angry will not help. Keep it light and treat the person your speaking to with respect. Language barrier or not, people will know when you’re treating them badly. Even though their language might sound childish or naive to you, they’re likely mature capable adults and sound like that in their own language.

Use sign language:

This is actually pretty effective. Sound effects, pictures, facial expressions and miming are all useful tools that we’ve used before entertaining children and making jokes with our friends. These are skills we already have, at least nascent.

Pictures:

If you know ahead of time that you will be in this kind of situation, whether for social reasons etc, preparing a simple slide show of pictures and clip art can fill in the awkward gaps in the “conversation”. Alternatively, you can upload a drawing app on your device or go old school and keep a pad of paper or a pencil to help you describe things or ask questions as you go along.

Finally, think about investing in an electronic dictionary. You can also download dictionary apps to your computer or other portable electronic device. There are even apps being advertised now that allows you to carry on a verbal conversation with your smart phone translating as you speak. I can’t speak for their accuracy but  in a pinch, it probably works.

Keep a sense of humor.:

You might just find yourself having the time of your life miming eating long noodles or finding the entrance to Tokyo Tower. Don’t be a afraid to look a little silly! It’s worth it.  Besides, half the time you’re probably in a country where nobody knows you. Who’s going to make fun of you in twenty years, or even the next five minutes, unless you tell on yourself, of course. And even if you are in your home town, you’re probably a hero, because everyone else is too self conscious to try to communicate with the “difficulty”. They’re all secretly glad you stepped up to the plate. Remember, someday, you could be the difficulty for someone else in the future, or maybe your son or daughter is miming their way through buying fruit in some car away country hoping someone will take the time to understand them.