In the previous two actions you have been exploring how to see what to change within intercultural contexts and then determine whether that is open to change. Why? Because you can’t change what you can’t see, and you cannot change what is not open to change. For this action you will be exploring how to choose precisely what to change, because then you can focus your efforts. This is important, because two of the biggest challenges I see people facing every day within intercultural contexts are overwhelm and confusion.
Feeling overwhelmed is a symptom of believing that you have to change everything at once. Instead, it’s better to choose only a few things to focus on. Later, you can make other choices. By focusing your attention on less, you can make progress faster. Furthermore, you will feel satisfied because you will begin to see tangible results sooner.
Coupled with overwhelm is confusion. The direction to take is unclear, so you wait for it to become clearer or for others to provide clarity. In fact, clarity comes when you make a choice. For example, one of my French clients had been recently promoted to work on a project that required him to communicate with people from a variety of cultures and professions. As a result, his unique communication style, which had worked so well for him in the past when communicating with others in the same culture and profession, was now no longer as effective.
In our first session together it was obvious that he was experiencing overwhelm and confusion. He really didn’t know where to begin or what exactly to do. He had a vague notion that improving his English grammar and expanding his vocabulary would help. But not only was that not the solution for him, it was actually contributing to his sense of overwhelm and lack of clarity. He had set himself a large and unclear objective: “I want to improve my English fluency.” Instead, I worked with him on expressing his opinions more clearly and concisely. At the end of the ten sessions his response was, “I am much more confident about my English abilities now, thanks to you.”
I am not surprised by that kind of feedback, because there is so much vocabulary and so many verb tenses — how can you ever master them all? From my perspective, once a client has achieved an upper-intermediate level of using English as a foreign language, learning how to more effectively use the vocabulary and grammar they already know is a better use of their time. You can do that, too, by focusing your attention on mastering how you use speech acts more effectively.
How you make requests, offers, promises, declarations, and express opinions and facts, makes up your unique communication style. This adds up to a total package that operates automatically. The good news is that you don’t need to choose to change all of it; your best approach is to focus your efforts on a single speech act at a time.
On the speaking side, you can choose to change:
How you make requests.
How you make offers.
How you make promises.
How you make declarations.
How you express opinions and facts.
On the listening side, you can choose to change:
Not listening for the intention behind the words.
Ignoring tone and body language.
Listening for other people’s concerns.
Cultivating intercultural trust.
The list is relatively short, in fact, when you focus on the building blocks of all human communication. I have linked some items in the list to places on my site where you can learn more about what you can do specifically to improve. I am always adding new things, so neither the list nor the links are static. I invite you to enter your email in the intercultural communication insights box at right, and I will send a new post or action to you as they become available.
My emails can also serve to help to remind you to practice. Because ultimately the first three steps of the process of change, which I have covered in this and the previous two actions, are only the warm-up for the fourth final step — practicing. While that seems obvious, we should ask ourselves why we don’t all practice more. That will be the topic of my next action.