When a test doesn’t go as expected, or a homework assignment goes missing, my son sometimes claims ”that teacher just hates me.” But as Eleanor Roosevelt said, “You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.”
And, while that’s true in general, it’s particularly true in intercultural communications–taking the broad view of intercultural to include not only culture or ethnicity, but also age or ability, as I learned last week after teaching an aqua aerobics class. A participant came up after class to both apologize and say thank you. “Sorry if I was flailing about or not following you,” she said. “I can’t hear a thing–I use a hearing aid but can’t use it in the pool. In fact that’s true for a lot of the ladies in the class. But, thank you. You are easy to follow because you demonstrate the moves as well.”
And with that little convervsation come two important lessons:
1. It’s important to be aware of your own communcation style and be able to recognize that of others, for better communication. I might show someone appreciation by smiling, making eye contact, nodding encouragement. Someone with visual impairment or hearing loss might be squinting or seem unfocused or not making eye contact, leaning in to be able to understand and follow.
2. People learn in different ways, some by seeing, some by hearing an exercise described, some by doing. And, in a given room, it’s probably equally divided in terms of how people learn. Your ability to combine approaches that draw on all of these will ensure the greatest number of people are engaged.