Say What You Mean To Say


‘Hi, how are you?' Now watch the eyes glaze over when the reply is anything other than ‘Fine thanks'.

Greetings follow similar patterns in other cultures too. In the Philippines, China, Cambodia, Vietnam, Korea, Thailand and India the phrase is ‘Have you eaten?' As with ‘How are you?' there is a formula response that's expected, and it doesn't necessarily require an invitation to dinner.

New Zealand English relies quite heavily on understanding the underlying meaning. We think we're quite direct, with common phrases like ‘don't beat around the bush' and ‘get to the point', but in fact much of our communication depends on understanding the context of the conversation.

Language is part of culture, and the way we use language is largely unconscious. While we might put extra effort into communicating with someone from another culture in a calm situation, when chaos reigns, we default to our usual style. And that's where the biggest challenge comes.

When you're working outdoors or at a distance, or in noisy hectic settings, the language barrier is far greater. Moving a herd of cows in mud and rain? Using noisy machinery in potentially dangerous situations? The pressure is on to understand each other clearly and quickly and to act.

When communication goes wrong we're quick to judge and frustration levels rise unbelievably fast.

One part of the solution is to learn each other's language - the words and the meaning. What are the words and phrases - and not just the polite ones - that might be used?

If you have a staff member who is new to New Zealand English, make sure they know what they might hear and what you want them to do when they hear it. Even learning which swear words are strongest on the scale of offense, can be a great help. The word ‘bugger' is freely used here, even on television, but it would never do in the UK. Language classrooms rarely teach the kind of colloquial language that gets used in stressful situations, and you will have your own particular variety of NewZild which is unlikely to be found in a textbook.

Make learning each other's language and communication style as much a part of your workplace orientation and settling in as any other routines.

It will save both of you a great deal of exasperation later.

Jenny Magee is a specialist in diversity and cross cultural communication.



Trainer, coach and consultant, Jenny Magee (BEd, DipTchg, DipSLT) works with organizations to raise awareness of diversity in all its richness and has over 25 years experience as a champion of diverse workplaces and positive, productive partnerships.

You may also like:

Filed under HR Management. Posted by The Corporate Toolbox on