Last week’s “Did you really mean to say that?” column triggered quite a few comments. Apparently, many people can relate to the subtitle of my “Are We Communicating Yet?” book, which is “It’s not what you say, it’s what they hear that counts.”
With America’s diversity continuing to grow, the challenge to communicate “like you mean it” continues to grow. Just thinking about it Baseball Jerseys reminds of Club Managers Association of America.
CMAA consists of managers of country clubs, golf clubs, downtown athletic clubs, yacht clubs and such. I’ve spoken to them at state, regional, national and international meetings.
When leading a full-day seminar for them at an international convention a while back, one of the participants was manager of a club in South Africa. He’s an interesting person in an interesting situation. His 500 employees speak 22 different languages or dialects.
Since my program that day was “Motivation Through Effective Communication,” I asked him to share some of his challenging experiences with us.
Of course, with such diversity in his club, his challenges are many. Not only are there language hurdles to overcome, but there are customs, values and lifestyles with which to deal. And you thought you had it rough in trying to communicate with people!
One of these days, however, we all may be dealing with something similar to the South African club manager’s situation. For example, when I became a resident of the Smoky Mountains’ resort hamlet of Gatlinburg in 1972, English was the only language spoken here. (Of course, there were four dialects: Regular American, Southern American, Sevier Countian and Cocke Countian.) Today, however, the languages have increased.
When I led in a management seminar for a Gatlinburg business more recently, the owner said he had to communicate with some employees by acting out movements and pointing. The employees were hired through an international employee leasing agency. The owner told me, “It looks like the way things are going, we’ll have to learn some new languages.”
This reminds me of wife Jean accompanying me when I spoke in Miami Beach and we turned the trip into a mini-vacation. Since Jean has a tendency to use a lot of Kleenex, our supply was deleted the first day in the hotel. She wrote a note requesting more tissues, leaving the note in the bathroom. When we returned, the note was still there, but no tissues. As we were going out the next day, she left the note again.
Upon our return, still no tissues. So, she phoned housekeeping and explained the situation. The head housekeeper told her, “Oh, our maids can’t read English.” She sent us some tissues.
On the day we departed, we ordered breakfast to eat on the balcony overlooking the ocean. When a man arrived with the meal and I quickly determined he could not understand English, I attempted to communicate with my limited Spanish. It didn’t work. Later, I discovered he was from Greece. I’m sure he really wondered about me as I bombarded him with a few Spanish words mixed in with Southern American English.
Years ago, Bob Dylan’s song, “The Times They Are A-Changing” was ‘right on’ in many areas. One of these areas is definitely diversity. In order to communicate effectively today, we must expand not only our knowledge of languages but also our knowledge of the customs, values and lifestyles of people. But good communication begins with successfully communicating with family, friends, coworkers and others with whom we have regular contact.
Carl Mays is a National Speakers Hall of Fame member and author of over a dozen books, including A Strategy For Winning (foreword by Coach Lou Holtz). Email: [email protected]