Publisher’s Points to Ponder:

A little more than a year ago, I facilitated a communication workshop for instructors at a college in Louisiana. The dean thought a refresher about communication barriers in the classroom might be refreshing for instructors who desired to improve the way they connect with students while illustrating complex concepts. Considering my recent struggle with communication in the workplace, I reflected on the highlights of this communication workshop.

When we communicate with people who are different from us, we tend to assume that the person we’re interacting with fully understands our intention. We rarely take into consideration that person’s frame of reference.

Frame of reference is your beliefs and values that you use to make judgments. It is impossible for two people to have the same frame of reference. For example, I am the youngest of nine children. When I listen to my siblings share their experiences of growing up in the same household, everyone has a different story, a different perception, a different experience. Consequently, they raise their children differently. They see life differently. When we communicate with one another, we don’t face any significant communication barriers as long as we understand our frames of reference.

The same is true when we attempt to communicate with the people we work with daily. In some cases, we spend more time with the people we work with than with the people we live with. This is why overcoming communication barriers is an important topic. As for me, the way I communicate is sometimes misconstrued because of cultural differences. Sometimes African-American women communicate more “passionately,” and that “passion” can equate to “aggression” to people who don’t understand the culture.

Understanding culture encompasses more than ethnicity; it also includes corporate culture. The corporate culture I adopted while working at IBM has caused enormous communication barriers for me. IBMers know the importance of documentation. It is customary to follow up meetings with emails to ensure everyone is on the same page. Because of this, I send detailed emails, but I can see how my behavior can be perceived as passive aggression, which entails making excuses or taking control, especially if someone does not understand the corporate culture that influenced my management style. I see excuses as implementation of rootcause analysis, and I see taking charge as being proactive. Simple cultural differences can lead to a stressful work environment. However, there is a simple solution to this dilemma.

To break down cultural barriers, spend time getting to know your co-workers. Take the conversation beyond the surface topics such as “What did you do this weekend?” Dig deeper. Get in there and dig into your colleague’s childhood—where did you grow up? Talk about past employment—what was it like working at a Fortune 100 company? Those small questions can lead to more in-depth conversations and improved perception.

Share your feedback with us on Facebook or write a letter to the editor. If you are interested in the full workshop, reach out to me at Publisher@OlneyEnterprise.com, or call 940-564-5558.

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