Communication

Dennis, Jared, and I flew to FUDCon this week. We all encountered delays in our flights but luckily, we all made it in the end.

I’ve already learned something a bit surprising in its magnitude but that made sense after a little thought. Jayme Ayres mentioned that the language barrier is more of an issue when using email then when speaking. When speaking to each other, there is feedback (body language, immediate questions, etc) that make misunderstandings easier to resolve. When using email, there is a lot of miscommunication that can’t be ironed out in the same way because there is no body language and because the communication lacks… the participation of both parties.

In a face-to-face conversation where the speakers are not fluent in each other’s language, both parties need to help express one person’s idea… starting with a phrase in English and in Spanish/Portuguese and trying to create an English phrase that more accurately describes what the person means. What generally seems to happen in email is one person writes what they mean to communicate as best they can. Then the second participant interprets it and assumes that their interpretation is correct. This leads to problems as often the interpretation was faulty in small details and sometimes in the larger picture as well. Jayme went on to say that the fear of misunderstanding is high enough that at least some people do not write an email expressing their postions in the first place.

Figuring out how to change this is hard but seems necessary. Jared Smith had a few ideas such as

  • encouraging people to send messages that include what they want to say in their native language as well as their translation of it.
  • having people who can speak multiple languages helping to clarify when messages like this come across the wire.
  • having a packager language sig where people can go for help translating things they want to say to each other.

I think a deeper, culture change might be needed as well. Using Active listening strategies when responding to email could help us to communicate in a more welcoming and more comprehensible manner when we’re trying to deal with language barriers (as well as simply in some of the highly charged emotional battles that seem to spring up in Fedora from time to time.)