Have you ever assigned tasks in a group, gone off to do the work, and then put it all together only to realize that you didn’t quite put together the best product? I had one of these experiences when completing a research project in my internship. Although my coworker and I had a planning session before we started, once we finished our respective tasks, we had generated wildly different deliverables. Our work had a lot of overlap and we had very different lengths. Furthermore, we had adopted very different formats. To that end, we had to go back to the drawing board and make drastic changes to our work before it was possible to turn it in.
Reflecting on this situation, it would be easy to suggest “more planning” as the solution. However, I do not think that is nuanced as we did in fact have a planning session, and we both even had a chance to repeat back what we thought we were going to do. Ultimately, unforeseen differences can be hard to account for. I think what is more appropriate is to keep tabs on each other regularly as we work on the assignment. It is just as simple as sharing documents with each other and making sure that we are on the same page with formatting and content. Also, we need to make better use of communication tools such as Microsoft Teams whenever we have doubts about how our work fits into the bigger picture of the project.
Another challenge that I had with communication was the high-context French style of communication. This style relies on the receiver to use context clues to understand the full meaning of a message, and it can be hard from the perspective of coming from an American education. However, it must be noted that I am Latin American by birth, so it is not entirely unfamiliar. The main adjustment I made here was to always ask questions on assignments. At the end of the first day working on an assignment, I always said how many pages I was projecting to make and what method I was using to complete the assignment just in case there were any disparities between what I was doing and what was expected of me. For the most part, I did have the right idea in mind and carried on with my work. Only one time was I prompted to go in a different direction, but because of how proactive I was with my communication, it was not difficult to switch gears after that.
Communication was essential for me to manage my workflow. Reporting to multiple people, I often had too many assignments or none at all. I had to set myself realistic targets for meeting all of my goals and let everyone know when I could get to what they wanted me to do. There was one time where someone had something urgent for me to complete, and that did force me to shuffle my schedule around a little bit, but for the most part, the system I had worked well. Whenever I finished an assignment, I also made sure to tell people whether I was available next so that they could know if they could give me more work. This made everyone aware of my status at all times.
I would say that many aspects of communication were simple. For the most part, I only had to use email for communication. Having everything in one place made the experience relatively smooth. Ensuring that I was available during the last five French business hours, I made myself available for people to contact me during the day if they needed anything. Language-wise, it was not much of a struggle given that I had done good research on email conventions before the trip.
I would have liked more opportunities to practice my speaking and listening in French, but unfortunately there were not many. These areas are ones that I have struggled with in the past, so it would have been nice to develop some of these while working at a French company. Given that I work so far away from the office, it simply did not make sense to have too many virtual meetings (even though I did work some French business hours). Nevertheless, I made some strides in learning industry-specific vocabulary that will help if I ever do decide to do business in French again.
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