14 Mar 2018

Cross Cultural Communication – What I say. What you hear.

Cross cultural communication is one of the biggest disasters that technology has enabled. Seriously.

Picture this scenario (quite a common one at that) Bob is running a very important project out of Texas, USA. His counterpart in India, Raj is now on a call with him.

Here’s a conversation that takes place between two people who speak English but whose communication styles are different. The words in brackets and  italics are what they are thinking!

Bob: So will be able to run those tests by Friday Raj? (I really hope we can turn this around for the client)

Raj: Er Friday? (Oh no! Friday is impossible)

Bob: Yes I said Friday. (I thought the line was clear. Did he not hear me?)

Raj: I can try for Friday (This means everyone working three nights in a row. Considering the weekend, it’s unlikely.)

Bob: (What a relief) So Friday it is Raj! That’s fantastic.

Raj: I said I will try. (I hope he is not expecting it on Friday)

What happened here was a classic misunderstanding in cross cultural communication. What Raj meant when he said he would ‘try’ was that it was not possible. ‘To try’ in Indian business parlance would mean that it was so difficult that one could not commit. Would it mean that Raj was being dishonest? No. It meant that Raj did not want to offend Bob by saying in outright No! Will Bob feel cheated at the end of the week? Of course. And justified too. And there begins a relationship that is full of misunderstanding and mistrust. If only they had realised the pitfalls of the cultural colour to the language, this would not have happened.

At a later date when both Bob and Raj realised what really happened, here’s the conversation that followed

Bob: Raj I need this by the 15th. Do you think it’s possible by then or is there another date you want to suggest?

Raj: Considering the quantum of work, 15th is difficult. But18th is possible. Can I speak to the team and confirm this in the next one hour?

Bob: Of course.

And as they say, they lived happily ever after!

Have you had misunderstandings speaking the same language with Indians. Do share your funny/exasperating/mystifying conversations! It’d be great to re-interpret them correctly. And yes if you do want to know how to bring teams together so situations like these a cross cultural communications session is right on the cards! Leave a comment below and we’ll talk.