The HR Juggler

A Little Less Conversation?

Posted on: April 19, 2012

How do you communicate? What do you rely on to get the best from people? The choice of words, turn of phrase and language we use can be hugely emotive and powerful, either to good or negative effect. Yet when we can’t rely on our spoken words and a shared language to articulate what we want to say, we become so much more aware of the non-verbal signals we use.

I pride myself on being pretty good at languages and loved learning both German and French at university and school respectively.  Whilst by no means perfectly fluent, I’m good at making myself understood and conversing adeptly in both these languages. My Spanish, however is limited and does not extend much beyond the realms of Dora the Explorer, so our recent holiday in northern Spain was an interesting linguistic challenge.

Two incidents really stick in my mind as memorable conversations and inspired communication. The first was when we were on the hunt for swimming hats, having been refused entry to the swimming pool without them. I successfully followed directions to the first sportswear shop (grumpy kids and bemused Mr C trailing behind me in the steady rain) where the shop assistant spoke no English. Cue me performing a mime of swimming breast stroke, patting my head three times and giving a big engaging smile and a questioning gesture. Success that the shopkeeper understood what I meant, sadly only to confirm he didn’t sell them. He directed me to a similar shop up the road where a similar ritual was performed, with an identical outcome. We were not destined to go swimming that day, but I admit to being childishly thrilled at the interaction – the limited Spanish that we had exchanged and the shared understanding we had created.

The second occurrence was in a restaurant towards the end of our stay, where we were choosing from an English menu, but ordering from the Spanish one, which didn’t seem to entirely match up. Mr C wanted pork (a “suckling pig” no less!) and hesitated on the Spanish pronunciation. On repeating his order, the waitress gave us a mischievous look and unexpectedly oinked like a pig to illustrate her point and confirm that he had indeed ordered correctly. This became a brilliantly funny joke and we built a great rapport with her (with much further oinking!) throughout the rest of our meal, speaking and understanding more Spanish than we had done before.

Somehow, in both these examples, the communication, the interaction was enhanced by a willingness to take a risk and look a little foolish, by humour and humility, by eye-contact, by smiling and establishing a genuine human connection. And for me, they have a power and a charm that not only makes me smile and feel good at the memory, but reinforces that sometimes it is the unexpected and unspoken methods of communication that are the most effective and engaging of all.

How have you communicated differently? Have you had any memorable conversations lately? I’d love to know.

4 Responses to "A Little Less Conversation?"

I am inordinately impressed with anyone who speaks more than one language. I am fascinated by the idea of someone choosing which language they want to think in (my wife is Italian).

Despite my fascination, my skills are very poor. One time, whilst driving on holiday to the Vendee, the motorway took us directly into Nantes. There was no road around, and the one-way system kept throwing me out on the North of town, Frustrated, I went into a petrol station, and tried to explain that I was lost. After many hand gestures, and much laughter, a chap kindly offered to lead me to the right road.

Only later did I realise that I hadn’t been saying I was lost (J’ai perdu), but rather that I was a loser (Je suis un perdant).

Oh how we laughed.

That made me chuckle – great story!

[...] A Little Less Conversation? [...]

[…] Alison feels passionately about mental health in the workplace and her series of blogs on the subject are worth checking out. A couple of other more general blog posts I like are A Social Holiday and A Little Less Conversation. […]

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