Saturday, December 3, 2011

Lesson Learned: Communication

This post is one of reflection and forward looking thinking to life after Time Irado. There will never be a time when Time Irado and the lessons learned are not present in each of our lives. Our experiences have continued to mold our minds throughout the seven plus weeks of living in Sao Paulo. Working with each of our high impact Entrepreneurs has truly been a once in a lifetime experience. Our travels to other cities, beaches, and also historic sites within Sao Paulo have helped provide perspective along the way. But the greatest lesson to learn from all of this, is the lesson of Communication.

Communication is not just a required Freshman level course in college. It is the fundamental act of human kind. We are social beings, some of us more than others, and we all have very distinct styles of communication. If you look up the definition of communication on, it states

"the imparting or interchange of thoughts, opinions, or information by speech, writing, or signs."
The key to this definition is in the imparting or interchange as being able to convey your message is key. Take for instance world class scientists Steven Hawking. Just about everyone probably knows of him, but if you don't, Hawking has a motor neurone disease that is related to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a condition that has progressed over the years and has left him almost completely paralysed and in 1985 he lost his ability to speak. Despite this disability, he uses a special computer which he can control to communicate his mathematical formulas, thoughts on scientific topics, and even deliver key note speeches at high profile event. Why am I bringing this man into my blog post? Because the point I am making is that you could have the most brilliant mind in the world, but if you cannot communicate what is in your mind, it is virtually useless. Thankfully through the use of this computer Hawking has this ability.

The business world is not much different. From the executives to newly hired staff members, everyone has to be able to communicate their ideas and thoughts. I have worked with brilliant minds that were not able to effectively communicate their ideas, either via verbal conversation or written. The art of communication goes way beyond understanding the language, it includes visual clues and the ability to be self aware of your style on others. One of the things that was reinforced during this Fellowship, was the importance of communication.

Communication became ever important as a result of a language barrier. In Brazil, the primary language is Portuguese and despite my best efforts to pick up on some of the language, it was not successful. There were a handful of employees at my company that understood a good amount of English, however there were limitations on the type of things we talked about. This meant that non verbal communication and the vocabulary used was more important than ever. It created an interesting work environment, sometimes perhaps even inefficient, but it was also a very fun work environment. It was fun because all parties involved, myself and the employees of Tecno Logys, all worked very hard to be patient and be as descriptive as possible in an effort to get our message across. I would compare it at times to a game like Pictionary or a similar game where you try to describe something with enough details that your teammates can guess the correct object or phrase. We also even attempted to translate emails and documents using the Internet and I regularly had "g" translate (remember I cannot use names of E&Y clients in my blog!) open on my computer in case we got stuck in our communication.

The message to reinforce from our experiences is one of patience, understanding your audience and purpose as well as the method of communication. All too often in our daily lives we rush around and even when we do not think we are do anything, we are still communicating. The Tone, Pace, Non verbal cues, such as our facial expression or the way we cross our arms, have just as big of an impact as the words we say. I was regularly thinking of these things in my environment because I had to slow down and get my message across but in everyday life back home many people, including myself sometimes, do not take the time to consider these factors. On occasion, I would ask the person I was talking to if they could explain what I meant just to double check the understanding. However, back in the US, a staff member could have listened to you explain something and understood it to be something completely different but sometimes we never ask for a clarity check. We may say "do you understand" but its human nature to just say "yes" or some variation of it because at the time it makes sense. However, when they leave the meeting and get back to their seat, they may have forgotten what you just described, unless of course they were a rockstar and wrote everything you said down. Therefore one thing you could do is to have them repeat back to you and clarify what you just said. Communication is perhaps one of the most complex things we do each day, some of us have become programmed that we do it like robots without stopping to think if perhaps the reason others do not understand is because we did not slow down and take the time to properly explain. Its easy to pass the blame during a communication exchange and we must continue to make efforts to actively listen, understand, and comprehend the information.

The English Philosopher, Sir Francis Bacon, had it right over 400 years ago when he made the statement that "Knowledge is Power". The person that has more information has the ability to see things in a greater light than those without information. This has been evident for centuries through things such as the literate vs the illiterate, the wealthy vs the poor, the politicians and the common man, but I stand here today and let Francis know that he forgot one simple detail. Without the ability to communicatie, knowledge is useless.  Therefore, I would change his quote to "Knowledge is Power, but without the ability to communicate the knowledge, you have nothing.".

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