The struggles of communicating

Kind of off topic for solar, but a common situation in our world, is the struggles of communicating when those you are talking to have a primary language that isn’t English.

Communication is always a challenge. Different families with different ways of expressing thoughts and emotions, different parts of the country with their colloquialisms conveying humor or emotion, and then as if day-to-day communication wasn’t complicated enough, we have professional/business communication that must take place. I have been on the personal and professional side of this dilemma.

  • In a previous job, I found myself in a situation where I had to communicate important information to someone who had a rudimentary knowledge of English.
  • My family has grown to include a daughter-in-law whose first language is French.

Here are some of the situations I have been involved in: 

  1. In helping my daughter-in-law plan her wedding, there were contracts that had to be signed to finalize agreements with the wedding venue. She is a smart girl, so it went right over my head that the formal business voice used in the documents was hard for her to understand. Thankfully, she wasn’t afraid to ask, so I helped her understand what was meant, so she could fill the documents out and send them back in.
  2. My daughter-in-law went for a job interview and upon leaving the interview, was asked for some paperwork, which she submitted. What she didn’t realize was that they had asked for the wrong paperwork, and when she gave them what they asked for, but not what they thought they were asking for, they then expressed doubt over her ability to do the job.
  3. One of my jobs, several years ago, was onboarding new employees and interns and sometimes this included people from other countries. In the process of onboarding there is a lot of important information that must be conveyed, and it was a challenge to interpret organizational legalese, into basic English so it could be understood. However, the simplification of terms and clarity around confusing phrases needed to be handled in a way that was respectful and not demeaning. While this situation arose in many different positions across the organization, there was one day when it was a doctor.

Why do I bring this up? Because as business owners, managers – leaders in our communities, we must do better. We are a minority owned business and 40% of our employees come from minority groups, and for some of those, English is not their first language and they are smart, hard-working, good employees.

Let’s make a habit of always offering clarity in explaining legal documents and let’s remember that intelligence is not determined by our ability to speak one language over another. Communication isn’t just the conveyance of information; it is also making sure that information is understood.