I can never read a doctor’s handwriting. Any doctor. It’s just not legible. It’s a wonder how pharmacists can get the correct medicine for you based on those unstructured scrawls on a little piece of prescription paper. Is there a secret communication code wired in that illegible writing on the prescription? I don’t know. It’s not only the physicians. I once had a dentist prescription, which is equally unreadable. I also had a couple of prescriptions from an acupuncturist, which are even more unreadable. Fortunately the herb medicine store has no trouble decipher the content.
Communication is hard; miscommunication is easy. And I am always worried about miscommunication since I know how often it happens. Also once miscommunication happens, it will take double or even triple amount of time and energy to make amends and correct the mistakes.
When a decimal point is misplaced, a calculating unit is mislabeled, or a phrase is mistranslated, misunderstanding will surely happen and sometimes cause serious consequences. However here I am not talking about mistakes being made. I am talking about no mistake is made, but still misunderstanding happens.
One common mistake that many people have talked about or even experienced is when an American goes to a dinner party at the home of one of the Asian countries. The American, for example Jenny, will finish her plate and say she is full, which means no more food for her. However in many Asian countries, an empty plate means the plate needs to be piled up for more food. If one is full, one usually leaves one’s food untouched on the plate. However the way Jenny was brought up, she has to finish the food on her plate–that is the proper way. So it ends up Jenny has to finish more plates of food than she really desires. There are definitely miscommunication here.
I have experienced another common mistake. In many Asian countries, it is perfectly OK if one is silent. For example, at dinner table with friends or an outing with two or three friends. If one doesn’t want to speak, it is fine and normal. I was brought up this way. However in America, if you go out with two friends and you don’t talk, the other two friends will think you are either ill or angry or weird. Speaking and reciprocating and responding are more important in here.
Another common miscommunication I’ve observed and experienced is that whenever I am silent, I look reserved and stubborn; whenever I am talking, I look too eager and too blunt. My manner is never going to be well balanced as those native English speakers. Actually I am neither too reserved nor too eager. I am quite normal, but my manner is giving people the wrong impression.
Another source of common miscommunication is the English language. English incorporates words from Greeks, Latin, French, Northern European or whatever the Ancient English people came into contact with. On the surface, it absorbs all, but in essence, it has its own way with it with its own style and quirks. Sometimes if one just make a little variation of it, it becomes awkward or even absurd. One simple mistake to make is when somebody is sick or ill, a non-native speaker like me can very easily say somebody has disease or somebody is diseased. It is such an innocent mistake to make. However it sounds terrible to call somebody “having disease or diseased”. The native speakers will think that you are very rude. And English has myriad of pitfalls like this strewn all over the place to trip the non-native speakers.
Years ago, I befriended a Taiwanese American woman who’s a team manager in AT&T in South Jersey for many years. We met on various occasions. I always wanted to ask her how she manages her team of engineers from different backgrounds, but there’s never a context or an opening to broach such a topic. I couldn’t ask the question, but I could observe her. I found that she is very serious about communication and she can talk about an issue from different angles and anticipate all possible consequences, for which she spends time to talk about each eventuality in as detailed manner as possible. I think her management style is like this too–to talk extensively to reduce miscommunication and misunderstanding. She does that despite the complaints from some people that she talks too much and worries too much. She’s not afraid of rejections–her strongest point, even stronger than her communication skills. Even if people become impatient with her, she is undaunted. She has points and she wants to make sure the points are conveyed.
Live and learn. I hope I can continue to learn from all the amazing people I meet offline and online.