The term intercultural communications refers to communicating with people across lines of difference. As the word implies that can be cultural difference, such as heritage or ethnicity, but it can also be across lines of ability.
I am reminded of this as I help to prepare volunteers for an event I have planned for a client coming up this weekend, The “Art” of Living with Parkinson’s Disease, which will feature original artwork by 30+ artists living with this disease.
I broached the subject with my client, the director for the American Parkinson’s Disease Association’s Midwest Information and Referral Center. As always, when wanting to understand another’s culture and not wanting to inadvertently offend, I opened with “I hope you don’t mind my asking. I want to be sure I do the right thing,” and “I haven’t worked directly with this population before. My goal is to serve them and to prepare the volunteers to serve them. I’m concerned that because of the physical manifestations of the disease (e.g. tremors, shaking, etc.) that people might think there is a mental deficiency, but I know that is not the case.”
“Bingo!” said the client. “That’s a great misunderstanding about the disease!”
It’s also a misunderstanding, not only to be cognizant of when speaking to someone with Parkinson’s disease, but when communicating to people of different backgrounds or particularly among people who speak different languages.
We are looking forward to a great, free event this Sunday, August 24, from 1 to 4:30 pm at the Bernard Weinger JCC at 300 Revere Drive in Northbrook, IL (in case you are in the area). But in the meantime, there are a few great lessons to consider from this that apply to Intercultural Communications:
1. Never be afraid to ask questions. Particularly when framed from the point of view of “I want to help” and “I want to learn,” people are generally willing and actually eager to help and share something of themselves.
2. Different doesn’t mean unintelligent. It’s worth the time to slow down and try to understand the essence or meaning of what another person is trying to communicate. Being impatient or speaking louder doesn’t solve the problem. Looking for contextual cues, providing feedback or asking a question does.
3. Take their lead when on their ‘turf.’ In other words, if it’s an event serving people with Parkinson’s disease, it’s a good idea to get into their rhythm and flow, rather than expecting them to adapt to your own. That’s really no different than a basic marketing tenet: Know your audience.
Have you ever been in a situation when someone from another culture was speaking, and you had difficulty understanding? How did you feel? Did you feel angry or frustrated? What did your body language say? How might you have changed the situation?