Lost in Communication?


I cannot believe this International Internship Program is over in two weeks. While I will be staying in Europe with my family for an additional week after my internship ends, the life I have been living for the past six weeks will be no more, and I will have to revert to my lifestyle in the US. No more coffee runs before work, double-decker bus rides around the city, or multicolor doors and rolling Irish hills. I have heard a lot about reverse culture shock, and even though it has not been that long, and Dublin is not that much different from home, I wonder if I will experience that.

This week for my blog post, I have to write about communication, a subject I have touched on in almost every post before this one but will finally be able to focus on today. I have mentioned that Ireland is a higher-context country, where speech typically is less direct, leaves more for the listener to interpret, and sometimes uses more idioms and colloquial expressions. In my internship, I have definitely noticed this ambiguity, especially with the quintessential question, “How much do I actually have to do?” The first few weeks of my time at Sweete, I was researching potential partners for two campaigns, one for gift cards to restaurants and beauty salons, and another for vouchers of free rounds of golf at various clubs. I did not know how much I was actually supposed to do, so I essentially just kept finding places until my searches grew drier and more repetitive. I found and contacted hundreds of beauty salons and restaurants, and three-hundred sixty-seven golf clubs (for reference, there are 494 total golf clubs in Ireland, and many are small or did not have an email address to reach out to); I did not find out until after I told my supervisor that I believed I had exhausted Google’s list of locations that had any type of street credit or reputation that I had exceeded expectations and didn’t have to do that much. I overshot how many companies were optimal to contact. This was not a significant problem since it may have improved exposure and our number of connections anyway, but my time could have been better spent if I knew the specific number they wanted me to gather in each industry.

Another example of miscommunication is when I have to periodically wrap boxes of prizes people win, like George Foreman panini presses or Breville juicers. When I was told to wrap packages the first time, that was it. Period end of sentence. I had to ask all the follow-up questions, like “okay, how should I wrap them?”, “what materials do you want me to use?”, “where is our company’s return label?”, and “where should I put them when I’m done?” After getting these answers, I could start wrapping the boxes in bubble wrap and brown paper, but I realized from those further instructions that if I was left to my own judgment, I definitely would have done it wrong because I would have never received any level of detail beyond the initial request. I learned that I needed to ask about all the logistics before I start a task, regardless of how unclear the directions are. This allows me to be prepared for everything that could come along with an assignment, and it lets me prepare for any possible curveballs that could be thrown my way.

A bonus issue is not related to context at all, but pronunciation. Taking people’s names and emails over the phone means asking how to spell them correctly, but the way Irish people say certain letters sounds different and takes a while to adjust one’s ear to. The letter “R” sounds like “oar,” and “H” has an actual h sound, like “haich.” It is quite difficult to spell names quickly, especially for people who have traditional Irish names I am not accustomed to hearing. I found myself constantly asking “R as in rock, O as in octopus, Y as in yo-yo?” and when I had to do this, a two-minute phone call became four minutes instead. I have learned to be more attentive to people and ask them to speak slowly when I need them to repeat themselves; that way, I do not create an actual nightmare for the both of us.

One thing I will say about every miscommunication I experience is that it teaches me to be a better communicator in explaining what I need and/or actively listening to the person or people with whom I engage. Exploring business communication in Ireland, with the higher-context language and different accents, may make my communication styles in the US and around the world more effective, confident, concise, and straight-forward.

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