Lost in Translation

Good communication is imperative in every relationship from spouses, to co-workers, all the way to the person I’m ordering my lunch from. It’s important to get things right (and that I don’t like pickles).

People have an overwhelming need to communicate. After all, even introverts talk to their dogs and cats. Why is that? Companionship.

Between generational gaps and different communication platforms us humans muddle through sharing our ideas for the simple fact of companionship and getting our needs met.

How does a Generation Xer like me get help from a Millennial at the local cell phone store? “Do you have Donut, Ice Cream Sandwich, Jelly Bean, or Éclair programming?”, asks the nice young lady employed there. I have no idea, but do know that now I want ice cream. In that moment I am trusting that this employee can help me without making me feeling like a total loser.

In the Financial Aid Office you are talking to every generation from multiple education levels: first time students, their parents, independent students, and retirees who want to further their education. How do you effectively communicate with this vast array of people?

Ask questions and listen to the answers. The listening part here is very important. Even if you feel silly, keep asking questions until you know you are on the same page. I assumed once that when a client said an item was ‘satisfied’ they meant ‘completed’. They didn’t. It was a mess.

Don’t Lecture. If you are lecturing you are not listening. You will not enlighten anyone, only inflate your ego.

Don’t assume you know what someone is telling you. Those blue jeans may say size 8 on the tag, but turns out they were size 8 juniors. The tag communicated 8! Why did this happen? You glanced, assumed you understood, and didn’t stop and think about it. Don’t assume you understand what someone is trying to communicate to you.

Use their verbiage if appropriate. At the very least, understand it! ‘Milk…Get Him Some Milk’. That is actually a meme. Don’t be surprised if someone comes into your office saying they need milk. Have fun Googling that later.

Keep it simple. No one cares if you can use big fancy words or not. They just want to understand you and for you to understand them. If you cannot explain it simply, you do not understand it well enough. – Albert Einstein

Show respect. While keeping it simple remember they are not in kindergarten and no, they are not your dog. Just because I don’t know if I have Android Froyo or not doesn’t mean I am lacking brain cells.

Use pictures when possible (even when there’s no paper). Learn how to draw pictures in someone’s head. Working in a call center I once helped a man that didn’t know what buttons represented which numbers. As I guided him through the process we developed our own way to communicate. Click on the snowman (8) button, click on the stick (1) button, click hockey stick (7). I managed to resolve his issue by changing what he didn’t recognize into something he could visualize…and I did it with respect, understanding, and kindness.

It’s all in the delivery. Be mindful of the delivery system. Should this be an email, phone call, text, a face to face meeting? More on that in another article.

Try another method. If talking isn’t working, try written word. Still no dice? Draw a picture, provide an infograph. If I can explain to someone to click on a snowman, there is no reason for you to give up.

In the end communication is to impart or exchange information between people…to understand one another, to be on the same page. Taking the time to fully connect with someone is well worth it, especially when you get the perfect burger without pickles.

Photo by sydney Rae / Unsplash