Ask and speak up

Ask and speak up

Once a year I give a talk to a special group.The constitution of the group is irrelevant except to say that they are intelligent, come to listen to me genuinely to learn about communications and are as presentable and lively a group as I could want. But they have two bad failings. These failings are not exceptional. Many groups have them. I am puzzled as to why.

Failing Number One is Questions. They observe me asking question after question – it is my style of giving a talk – but they don’t ask questions back. I tell them to be open, to be critical, to speak their minds. I plead with them to dispute what I am saying – and I do say some very outrageous things every now and then. But they won’t ask me questions. Why?

Culturally, Asians do not ask questions. They regard the process as exploitive, intrusive and even rude. They have been educated to keep their information to themselves and not risk losing it to others so they assume that trying to find out about other people’s lives, jobs and interests is somehow wrong. I understand that from way back but not in 2015, surely.

Some while ago a client told me of a colleague who had real emotional intelligence problems. I asked my client if he might mention to his colleague that we deal with such issues. “Absolutely not,” he replied, “that would make him more competitive with me. Why should I do that?” The idea of a helping hand for a colleague seemed incredible to my client. I was shocked. We live in a society where you hear the word ‘sharing’ about once a minute. Here was a perfect example of potential sharing and it was totally repudiated.

How do we overcome the remnants of this cultural blockade? It is essential that we should. Arguably the most successful society in the world is the United States. There, sharing is very real. You are welcomed and given every opportunity to learn. Of course you are not expected to steal Intellectual Property and the laws protecting it are strongly enforced. Perhaps there is a lesson for Asia in that?

Failing Number Two is Volume. Nobody likes shouting. In fact it is so much avoided in Asia that you are deemed to be shouting even if you type something in capital letters! But good communication requires a pitch and volume that enables the other person to understand. Given the multiple versions of English spoken in Asia it is more important than ever to speak clearly – and that requires some volume. Strange that we live in noise that is literally deafening but fail to turn up our own volume enough for another person to hear us.

Both the failings I mention here require effort to overcome. Asking questions means thinking, always an effort. Speaking clearly and audibly requires effort. We all exercise in our own ways to keep physically fit. Perhaps we should exercise mentally with some effort?

Could it keep our minds working for longer than they otherwise would?