Communication Gaps

It is Monday morning here in Dublin–in fact, the second-to-last Monday morning left on this two-month period in Dublin. I am leaving in just a little under two weeks, which is definitely hard to believe. This past week has been yet another busy work week in the office, and aside from work, I am trying my best to make the most of my final two weeks here in Dublin.

One aspect of my workplace that I have written about previously is that of the communication style and its differences from any experience I have had in the U.S. Usually, the general communication style in Ireland is described as low-context, as is the United States. However, my experience has proven different. Low-context implies little ambiguity in verbal instruction and decisions based on fact over intuition. Within my work thus far, I have experienced the reverse, having to navigate ambiguity on a day-to-day basis and use my own judgement to make decisions.

A low-context environment like the U.S. puts an emphasis on verbal language and verbal instruction. Any job that I have had in the U.S., I have been provided with clear training and instruction upon initially starting.

One of the main struggles of my internship has been a lack of both verbal language and instruction. My first week on the job, I would wait for instruction, expecting my supervisor to assign me a task. Those explicit directions rarely came, however. When I did receive a task to do, such as conducting an interview, I was still given little instruction. It seemed as if I was simply entrusted with doing a satisfactory job, despite not having been given specific standards and expectations to abide by.

As a result of the lack of verbal instruction, I was forced out of my comfort zone to advocate for myself and communicate efficiently, constantly checking in and asking what was expected of me for each task I was presented with. It stands true that it is better to ask questions than to complete task incorrectly.

The communication style I have witnessed in my office is altogether quite lax. On some occasions, I have headed into work in the morning, planning to ask my supervisor about a specific task that I had been working on, only to find that he is out of the office for a couple days–something planned that I obviously was unaware of. It seems that everyone in the office is on different schedules and does not stick to in-synch work schedules.

There have also been a few instances during which I struggled with the communication barrier between the Irish and American cultures. For example, I have conducted multiple interviews for newspaper articles over the phone. For two of them, I interviewed elderly priests in the area. For one, their accents were quite thick, something I am not accustomed to hearing and probably the primary reason I was having trouble understanding them. I was also only recently informed that Irish from different parts of the country have their own distinct accents which attributes to difficulty as well. Second, using the phone was slightly difficult, as sometimes their speech would fade, or the connection lost for a split second. It was daunting when, in the middle of posing questions, I would pause to say “Hello? Hello?”

It was very difficult to understand what they were saying, but I had to do my best to continue the conversation throughout the duration of both interviews. My next step was to listen back to the interviews and transcribe all the words spoken between the two of us. I had to rewind both interviews many times, going over different words or phrases that I couldn’t initially make out. Sometimes, I had to ask a colleague his/her opinion. What was a 20 minute interview quickly turned into a transcribing process that took over an hour.

Another smaller communication barrier has been that of written communication. The newspaper obviously abides by UK standards of grammar and spelling, as well as the newspaper’s own style guide. It took me some time to be accustomed with the grammatical and spelling differences seen here. I am often tasked with reading rough drafts of news pages and pointing out any spelling or grammatical errors, which has certainly been difficult considering it is neither the spelling or grammatical style that I am used to abiding by in the States.

All in all, the differences in communication seen in my workplace here have been much different from that in the U.S., but it has taught me an incredible amount both about myself and the work I have been doing. I hope to make the most of these last two full weeks of work!

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