Bridge Communication Gaps within a Diverse Workforce

While most multicultural employees are fully competent in their jobs, there are times when pronunciation, language and listening gaps impair effective communication. The inability to fully understand communication nuances and speech differences hinders productivity and most certainly, the career mobility of these individuals.

Recently I piloted a public speaking and storytelling event with a culturally-diverse audience.  I screened and coached my strongest American speakers to share a personal anecdote about navigating adversity, including their “lessons learned.”  Each speaker spoke for 5-10 minutes, was energetic and engaging and narrated with clear diction at a comfortable, conversational speaking rate.

As I observed the audience from the sidelines, I was surprised by the furrowed brows and strained expressions.  The speakers’ stories were humanistic, relaxed and authentic. I felt certain, they would be enjoyed and easy to understand. But, that was not the case. The reaction of the majority of the audience who spoke English as a second language, was one of confusion and uncertainty.

This realization caused me to adjust my training. These comprehension “disconnects,” gaps in understanding, had to be addressed. Before individuals could share their perspectives, they needed to form their opinions, and in order to form their opinions, they needed to fully understand the stories the speakers shared. Repetition and explanation were required, even for the most fluent English Second Language speakers. I created groups with the native English speakers as facilitators to recap, retell and explain nuances of phrases and vocabulary that blocked comprehension.

In the intimacy of a small group with a native-American facilitator, the multilingual listeners “got it,” both the narrative content and the focus on expressing their opinion.

Lessons Learned

It only takes one vowel or consonant or a single unfamiliar word or phrase to confuse a listener, and this is especially true when the language being heard is not the listener’s first language.  For example, if file is heard as fire, the response to “Where is the file?”  will be significantly different than if heard as Where is the fire?  Likewise, if a listener doesn’t know the word “bladder,” a nurse saying:  After you empty your bladder, the doctor will come in to see you, may find the patient confused and non-compliant.  If a listener hears sack of potatoes as one long word (sakapataytoes), he or she will have no clear “picture” to attach to the spoken sentence:  He put the baby over his shoulder as if it were a sack of potatoes, and communication will be compromised.

Listening comprehension is a prerequisite for engaged discussion.  It is obviously difficult to share one’s opinion, when unsure of the meaning of what was spoken.  Listening to cross-fire communication at a meeting is a lot more difficult than listening to a book on tape or podcast, or listening to audio exercises on a comprehension test.

As a communication consultant, I am often asked to train multi-cultural professionals to speak up, be more assertive and more self-confident. Human Resource leaders and managers want to understand if their employees are holding back because of gaps in understanding, a lack of proficiency in expressive language, (i.e.  grammar and vocabulary), shyness, introversion or similar personality style, or cultural-communication differences.

Communication specialists add value by making these determinations. They identify the source of these communication disconnects and create and provide individualized coaching and training programs to close those gaps. This supports the multilingual-multicultural professional personally and professionally, adds value to their team and promotes business relationships and business productivity.

4 Points of Connection PLUS is a comprehensive program that trains multicultural professionals to be confident communicators in their roles as presenters, conversationalists and discussion participants. If you have communication concerns about your employees, or if you speak English as a Second Language and feel compromised in your ability to speak up or understand fully, please contact me for a complimentary consultation:  609-799-1400.  Speaking that Connects is dedicated to making a difference and driving excellence.