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The Art of Creative Communication

“The most important thing in communication is to hear the words that aren’t being said,” Peter Drucker.

Whether you are in a foreign country, in the work world, or just simply trying to communicate with your friends and family, communication can be a hard concept at times.

Two summers ago,  I really learned the value and importance of effective communication when I had the opportunity to travel to China. My purpose for going over there was for a project, to meet the local kids, hang out with them and learn more about China, and their culture.

Upon my arrival in China, I immediately became intimidated.  It was the very first time I had arrived in a new place and did not understand or recognize one spoken or written word.  I was completely illiterate, and that got to be very uncomfortable at times.

Not knowing a single word of Chinese, I wondered how I was supposed to communicate with my peers if I couldn’t even say hi.  Thankfully, we had a translator with us during the initial phase of our trip. She helped a little by giving us a phrase book.  However, when we went into the schools, we were completely on our own!

My first day, I literally walked all over that campus,  going up to Chinese students, asking them if they spoke English and if they wanted to hang out and be my friend. Some kids gave me funny looks and clearly didn’t understand a single word I said. Others just swarmed me, as if I were a celebrity, and took what felt like thousands of pictures with me. Finally, I met some students that knew enough English to comprehend what I was saying. On the first day, I miraculously formed a little group of friends, and we spent all day together! They took me to lunch, they showed me around their school, introduced me to their friends, and taught me about their family and their lives in China.

My new friends had endless questions for me, and they literally wanted to know every aspect of my life back in America. Before embarking on this incredible adventure, I knew the Chinese did not have the same freedoms as American’s do.  But, I guess I didn’t realize it was so severe and that their government even puts limitations on what they study in school. For example, when the Chinese students get to a certain age, they take a test and depending on what they score determines what college they will attend and what programs they will study. This situation leaves many students unhappy with their career path, but they can’t do anything to change it. I cannot imagine not being able to change my major in college if wanted to.

I learned so much from my Chinese friends that summer.  But perhaps the most important challenge was effectively communicating with my Chinese peers. I quickly learned that by me just talking, that wasn’t going to get me anywhere.  So, I had the idea to bring pictures along. I showed them pictures of my friends and family, where I lived, and what I liked to do! They just loved that. By communicating with them in a visual way, they were able to connect with me without me using very many words. The next day, they brought pictures of their friends and families and I was able to better learn about them and their lives. I never thought that about the power of images and that through pictures we could connect on a whole new level.  From then on, our friendship really grew.

I think the lessons I learned about how to effectively communicate with my Chinese friends is something I now use in my everyday life. I learned that every person communicates differently with one another, and there are ways to effectively communicate with different types of people.

First, we all have to recognize that not everyone is just like you.

Second, I think that patience is key. Be slow to speak, but quick to listen and really try to hear the words that are not being said. What is the meaning behind the conversation and how are they feeling?

Third, be respectful. Everyone has different thoughts and ideas, and it’s important to realize that and respect them as a person.

This is what I love about Catch Your Limit! My internship is teaching me that communication skills that I learned all the way in China are effective in many situations.  Catch Your Limit’s consultants value effective communication and teach people how to be better communicators.  And, most of all, I’m learning the importance of asking good questions and listening.

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  1. Gayle Turner says

    Leighton, this is an excellent TED video on listening. You’re doing great.

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