Communication and Misunderstanding

In dealing with other people you need to effectively communicate. This demands a real effort on your side to clearly express to others what you think, so that they know and understand what goes on in your brain, and to carefully listen to what the other tries to convey to you. This is a truism.

However, in reality, neither of what you so carefully try to convey to others, nor what they try to tell you, is always understood the way it is meant to be. This is not due to a lack of effort, skill or sincerity, but often because each individual’s brain ticks differently as factors like age, gender, and social and cultural context come into play. Consequently, different people will process the same words and concepts differently. This leads to misunderstandings.

The further afield you go in your new project, dealing with increasingly different groups of people, the greater the chance that misunderstandings arise. It is natural, its logical and it happens. As your project, “doing something new,” by definition, takes you into new fields, whether economic, social, geographic, you will communicate with new kinds of people, which makes misunderstandings an almost sure part of your project.

Expect it, and do not moan and groan but deal with it and learn from it. Never take an obvious as obvious, always assume that there may be another side to it. It reminds me of a project I worked on myself. It was a joint venture in a foreign country building a small hotel, and my partner was a young local man without much money or formal schooling, but he was smart and honest.

Early on we ran into an engineering problem, which was not his fault. He recognized the problem, but in our regular meetings he did not tell me. I found out on my own and asked him why he had not told me. His said that it was impossible for him to cause disappointment for an older, rich and educated man like me, and that he knew that I was smart enough to discover the problem on my own. Now I understood why remaining silent had been his original answer. My head was spinning, but I did learn that communication is a skill with many dimensions, and that even when both sides try to the best of their ability to convey their thoughts, sometimes by staying silent, their brains tick differently and that misunderstanding is a fact of life. Therefore, never to take an obvious as obvious, and always assume there may be another side.

My original misunderstanding of him also gave me the chance to get to know him and his culture better, and for me to accept that in his own way he had honored me by remaining silent, and had stood by his own principles. This strengthened our partnership and contributed to the ultimate success of our project.