Friday, June 12, 2009

Keys to Communication - Lessons from James Carter

“Do you understand the words coming out of my mouth?” LAPD James Carter yells at Inspector Lee in the movie Rush Hour. Of course Lee (Jackie Chan) understood Carter (Chris Tucker), but he played coy that he didn’t understand English, as he was amused with Carter’s antics. “Why is this guy screaming at me” he must have wondered? “I’m not deaf.”

James Carter, like so many people, are clueless as to how to communicate effectively and especially when communicating cross-culturally. Some people think if they raise the volume of their voice somehow people will understand!

“Oh, now, I get,” they listener is expected to reply, “Thanks for yelling at me, things are so much clearer now!”

Communication are not mere words, they are symbols of meaning. But it helps to know the right words within context. In Swahili, “nyanya” can refer to either grandmother or tomato. If you said to someone their “nyanya” looks plump and delicious, you’d better be looking at their garden!

Speaking of tomatoes, a friend of mine on Facebook asked how our garden was doing (my wife planted 46 tomato plants) and if we had tomatoes coming out the “wazoo.” A student in India asked me the meaning of “wazoo.” I had to transliterate its meaning rather than give the literal translation.

Want to communicate cross-culturally? Make sure you know the meaning of both your words as well as the words of others.