Miscommunication can Ruin your Job Search

Miscommunications and Misunderstandings When You are Looking for a Job

It doesn’t need to be a big deal. Pay attention!

If you remember last week’s post we talked about a misunderstanding between a new teacher and his employer. The misunderstanding came about due to some miscommunication when the employer – a non-native speaker – had some difficulty expressing urgency in her message, causing the new teacher to assume he was about to be fired!

Clarify Clarify Clarify

I want to relate another relatively similar story that says “New teachers – pay attention and clarify, clarify, clarify!”

Another newbie English-teacher-about-to-be in the middle of their visa process understood their employer to suggest that everything that cost money during the visa process would be paid for by the school, including things he needed to do in his home country. This, in spite of a contract that specifically said the expenses in China would be paid.

You are dealing with non-native speakers

Please understand, when you are seeking a new job teaching English in another country, that many times your communication will be with speakers of English who are NOT native speakers. And remember that even native speakers can have misunderstandings and miscommunications. So why would we expect our communications with non-native speakers to be problem free?

We should, in fact, assume that those communications might be problematic.

Whenever anything seems to be “too good to be true” or a rather surprising problem, seek to clarify the situation using the strategies suggested in the previous post (#3). Rephrase what the speaker said and ask if that was what was intended. You will often be surprised!

TED’s Tips™ #1: If something upsets or confuses you, ask a colleague to help sort it out.

Intercultural Miscommunication: Clearing up communication in a foreign culture

TEFL Training Programs don’t teach you how to apply what you have just learned to your job search skills.

This is important. And the next post on this same topic is important. But only if you are looking for a job or are thinking of looking for a job teaching English abroad.

A man I was working with recently became upset over a conversation with a new employer. He was in the process of getting his visa paperwork set up, but had experienced delays in getting his health exam (required in many countries) completed.

When he contacted me he reported that his new employer was possibly going to fire him or at least cancel his new contract if he did not complete the health exam by the following Wednesday.

Wow. Big problem if you have quit your job and are packed and ready to head across the world.

Well . . . it didn’t quite sound right so when I checked with the employer – who was not a native speaker – the message was different. The message was “hurry up!”

How did this miscommunication happen?

Where did good communication break down and how might you avoid or solve such an event?

Where it broke down was that non-native speakers of English often don’t know how to express themselves strongly. How to press a point assertively and appropriately. They need to be taught such things (did they tell you that in TEFL Training?) and almost every experienced Business English trainer will have spent considerable time on exactly that topic.

Somewhere in the communication with the boss, the boss implied or somehow communicated more than what she intended. And the teacher-to-be took the English quite literally and seriously and assumed that he was about to be fired.

You can’t do that!

(take things too seriously) Do you see how easily this could have become a disaster to the new teacher? And even a major problem for the employer as they would have found themselves short a teacher come the new semester?

TED’s Tips™ #1: If you intend to be a language professional, you quite need to learn how to interpret what is said to you by non-native speaker supervisors and colleagues (and your EFL students) and to seek clarification if something doesn’t seem to make sense to you or seems to be an exaggerated or inappropriate response to a situation.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Check the suspect statement by repeating it back to the speaker and then rephrase it and ask if that is what they meant. If it is still confusing, ask again and rephrase again. YOU are the teacher and the communication may well need to be sorted out and you are the person with the skills (we all hope!) to figure it out. Consider it a challenge!  Don’t let these little things get in the way of your new life teaching English abroad. They are too easy to avoid.

Teaching Internships in China


Cultural Differences: Teaching English Abroad

How to Survive and Thrive Working Overseas

Cultural differences:
When Yes = No
How you can get very confused!

Your new country isn’t your old country. How people behave and respond can be quite different.

When “Yes” is better than “No”

Western-style assertiveness is not so common in the rest of the world. A story to illustrate: In the summer of 1993, I was teaching at a university’s summer program (socking away a little extra cash while I was on paid vacation from my college!). The weather was very hot and sweaty – and the classrooms had no air conditioning. And I mean HOT and SWEATY – we were soaking with sweat.

A Coffee Shop

The students suggested that we have our class across the street in an air-conditioned coffee shop – a great idea! Only about eight students in the class, so we would easily fit in a big corner booth. I asked the supervisor if it was okay – and he said, “Yes.” A few minutes later he said, “So you are not having class today?” I replied, “Of course we are, we are going to meet in the coffee shop – as the students requested. That’s okay, isn’t it?” He said, “Yes.”

A few minutes later he – again – said, “So you are not having class today?”

Well . . . we went through this cycle several times before I got a bit upset and told the supervisor, “If you don’t want us to meet at the coffee shop – just SAY ‘NO’!” Needless to say, everyone was upset. But, it didn’t need to be that way – I really should have picked up on it the first time – or at least the second time the supervisor asked if I was not having class.

Get it?

Many cultures are not as direct as our own. You’ll need to pay attention and listen for underlying content – all the time! You can make your coworkers and supervisor very uncomfortable if you make them confront you, or if you become confrontational. It can really stress your relationships and sour your work situation. Be careful, listen, interpret.

If you really don’t understand

Ask your supervisor in the context of a culture question. You can say, “I am a bit confused here. In my culture my boss would say ‘[fill in the blank]’ – are you wanting me to ‘[do or not do something]?’ Please help me understand.” This kind of a statement takes the heat off the situation – and saves “face” for everyone involved. You can even have a good laugh about it – instead of everyone being upset.

Develop a little finesse

in dealing with cross cultural communications – and your life will go much smoother overseas! It’s all part of learning to be a skilled expatriate.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Pick up some intercultural skills and be proud of them.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Don’t let cultural arrogance lead your career to ruin. Other cultures often have even better ways to solve problems. And if you are operating in that culture, be flexible and open to learning those new methods.

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