Who has the responsibility for making sure communication is received?
Yuri’s manager tells her that her next project is to make sure that the Cookery is ready for the New Year marketing campaign. She first thinks it has something to do with a new year’s party but realises that’s nonsense. Yet, she doesn’t really know what she is meant to do.
She is new to this company, and she isn’t yet fully up on all the terms, projects, campaigns or acronyms used here. She is a marketing expert and can drive any kind of campaign, but no one has taken the time to introduce her to the company’s marketing cycles, the particular projects that have come before, nor has anyone pointed out the guide for deciphering acronyms and pet names.
Finally, she finds out that it wasn’t “cookery” but an acronym KUKRE which referred to their company’s marketing priorities, which would certainly be important to follow in any campaign.
Yuri wasted several days trying to decipher that message. A few times, she thought she was on the right track, but it turns out she was chasing shadows. She spent hours looking for “cookery” in previous campaigns.
Why had she not asked her boss what he meant to begin with? She’s not even quite sure. There was a mixture of pride for not wanting to ask (as the expert she should know, right?) and her temporary employment status certainly didn’t give her the confidence to go asking stupid questions. And besides, she didn’t even know what she didn’t know so she didn’t know what questions she should ask.
Also, what Yuri wasn’t quite attuned to yet, was the cultural differences, but after some time she and her boss learned to navigate the difference between her, “high-context culture”, typical of Asia where she was originally from, and the more direct northern European directness of her boss.
Why does this time-wasting dynamic happen so often?
- It happens because when new to a company, people don’t yet know the habits or styles of the organisation. Often the long-time employees don’t recognise how their own company might be different from others.
- New hires find it difficult to navigate the myriad of acronyms used unconsciously in a company.
- With a global workforce, there will be many differences: different mother tongues, different country cultures and different company cultures. These create habits in how we expect to communicate and when switching context, we may get lost.
- For people operating in a language different from their mother tongue , colloquialisms and shortcuts don’t translate well. Someone might need to hear a message more slowly or in clearer language.
In high-context cultures like those in Asia, the Middle East, and parts of Latin America, where much of the communication is implicit, it becomes vital for the sender to be attuned to the nuances of the receiver. Failure to do this can easily lead to misunderstandings or misinterpretations.
Conversely, in low-context cultures like the United States, Canada, and much of Northern Europe, where communication is more explicit, the receiver is expected to engage actively and seek clarification when necessary. In these contexts, assuming a passive role as a receiver may result in missed information, miscommunication or misunderstanding.
- Recognise that people are different and naturally communicate differently. Talk together about communication patterns in your company and who generally has the responsibility for making sure a message is received and understood. Explore the implications of this on team communication.
- Invest time in on-boarding so new-hires can learn the acronyms and other habits of the company.
- Challenge the notion that a new hire will know the right questions to ask.
- When asking someone to do something, especially for the first time, find out what they heard you say. Emphasise that you are available for any clarification needed.
- Train people in how you want things done. And train people in communication.