As I write my book and encourage people to communicate more clearly around their own touch boundaries and needs, I find myself observing, even more than usual, the ways individuals communicate and touch in various cultures and situations. I also observe the ways that people create strong and clear connection without using touch, as this is just as important.
I have observed cross-cultural use of many of the ideas that business gurus and communication professionals have been recommending for years, e.g. reflective listening, looking others in the eye, and body language. But I have also noticed, being a non-native speaker, on how people interact with me and with others who are from other countries. In the tourist areas, some English-speaking natives start by asking ‘do you speak English?’ but many will automatically start talking English, and hope the other person knows what they are saying. Many workers are adept at picking up on cues from their patrons and can identify whether to speak a native language or start with English, as English is default to those who know multiple languages but not the language of the country they are in.
I start my conversations with as much of the foreign language I know before I switch to English, ask for clarification, or request slower speech. I find people are more communicative and warm in return than if I just lead in English. My mother is visiting, and she says in Swedish ‘do you speak English.’ It seems to me that people are also more open with this level of communication. Perhaps because it shows a basic attempt to learn and respect where we are?
People I have met are more than willing to help me learn their language. They are willing to speak slowly, use simple words and phrases, and say things in a different way if I don’t understand. They will switch to English if they know it and I cannot understand, but if I ask them (once I understand the words) to say it again in Swedish, not only will they say it, but they will help me pronounce it correctly. It’s amazing and heart-warming and really fun to be able to learn to communicate this way.
However, sometimes I don’t attempt clarity. People speak to me and I just pretend I understand, even when I have no clue. Maybe I think I know what they said, but instead of clarifying, I just respond and then watch them give me an odd look because my reply wasn’t congruent with what they said. Every time I don’t ask for clarification, I reflect on it later, usually with a bit of regret at a missed opportunity to learn and connect. Usually I don’t clarify because I am in the midst of self-judgment or ego. Frequently I am afraid I will be perceived as stupid by the native speaker, other times I just am being lazy. At times I recognize the words and am upset at myself for not remembering them, so I “punish myself” by not engaging. Now and again I default to English, as I can’t even think about how to say a sentence under my own perception of pressure but after the situation is done, I think of three or four ways to express what I needed to, even if I do sound like a 4-year-old. (At least I will learn that way!)
We all have to start somewhere with clarifying communication-at work, in relationships, and in social media. It’s important to speak clearly and gently with others. To take time and trust the other person is doing the best they can in the moment. I encourage you, as I am encouraging myself, to let go of the ego and ask for clarification if you are being triggered by another’s words, or if you don’t understand. Take a few breaths, know that communication is one of the trickiest things we engage in. Give yourself and the other/s time and space to really understand. It’s time to be kinder and gentler with ourselves-and each other. Communicate what you want, what you need, and what you want to understand. Allow engagement, allow for mistakes. I am, and am finding it’s one of the best and most rewarding ways to learn.
weeks of self-imposed peaceful isolation to write my book on community bonding
and touch has created a bit of loneliness in my heart. This morning, I made the choice to open Facebook and
catch up on my dear friends and family.
As I scrolled down the feed, my heart sank and tears came to my
on earth am I supposed to help us connect with each other when we cannot even
use civil tones with each other on social media? I sighed, as I scanned
faster to avoid the barrage of hatred laid out in front of me.
people lie, people do bad things—not liberals, not conservatives, not
whites, not gays, not the immigrants, not the millennials, not the elderly.
There are hate groups, of course, but in general communities of all styles, individuals make these choices, the same way my individual
friends make the choice to use tones of hatred.
goal seeming suddenly hopeless, I stepped away from my computer and wandered
aimlessly around the small house in the Norwegian valley. The windows offered the same view to the
beautiful mountains, and the sound of the waters rushing down them hadn’t
changed, but it all seemed suddenly worthless.
mind drifted back to an exercise at my Blandin Community Leadership training. If
only people understood how much our beliefs are actually part of our brain
am going to put you into groups based upon your Meyers Briggs results and have
each group figure a way to solve this problem.”
One of the program leaders said, standing in the middle of the U-shaped
table formation near the front of the room.
rural community leaders, a variety of ages, backgrounds, gender and race had
been chosen after a lengthy application process to learn to build and sustain a
healthy community. We were learning
about ourselves, where individual and organizational blind spots may be, how we
interact with others, how to see problems from a higher perspective, how to build positive social structures, and
how to resolve conflict. Quite an undertaking for a five-day retreat.
should be interesting, I thought, as she divided us into three groups. The last
few exercises taught us all a lot about individual roles and reactions, but
this is the first big group problem-solving exercise. I smiled as everyone
stood up and a cheerful buzz filled the room, as people grabbed their materials
and re-organized themselves.
the situation,” she interrupted the chatter as people organized into smaller
circles, “You are on the board of
directors of a nonprofit organization.
Your bookkeeper, a volunteer who has been loyal, accurate, and timely
for 15 years, suddenly starts making mistakes in the financials. The mistakes seem to be growing slowly, and
one day it is brought to your attention that someone smelled alcohol on her
breath while she was at the office. What
do you do?”
stepped back and smiled knowingly. “Does
anyone need me to read that again?”
not quite as challenging as I anticipated, I thought as I turned back to my group
with a thoughtful look on my face, I already know what my plan of action
of course we need to have a conversation with her,” one member piped up right
away. “We don’t know what’s going on or
if it’s true she really had been drinking.”
“She is a volunteer,” another person chimed in. “But we do have a duty to our organization, especially when it comes to finances.”
we definitely cannot sacrifice our organization if she isn’t able to continue
here duties well, but if she needs a bit of time away from the job to deal with
a personal issue, we could find another person to help temporarily,” the next
this is easy, I
sat up straighter and looked around the rest of the conference room to see how
the other two groups seemed to be getting on. Looks like there’s a lot of
agreement in the other two groups as well, I noted, people are smiling and nodding and
seem enthusiastic with their hand gestures—-at least the extroverts.
giggled to myself. Blandin had broken
our 16 types down into sub-types, giving us further insight to each category,
and I could see that playing out in the room. Our group is much smaller than
each of the other two, I noted. We only have about ten, and the other
two are around twenty people each. That
must make it a bit more difficult to come to a resolution.
have three minutes left. Please pick
someone from your group to present your decision to the group.” The leader interrupted loudly over the
hastily picked a leader, had her summarize our final decision to us quickly,
and turned to the front of the room, waiting.
one, please present your results.”
A prominent businesswoman stood up and projected the decision easily and clearly over the group. “As the board of directors, we have no choice but to terminate her volunteer position immediately and find a replacement. We cannot tolerate any financial impropriety in the organization, as it could cause a negative impact on our nonprofit status, our revenue, and the community trust in our organization.”
that is super harsh, I
thought, stunned. No communication?
No making sure that there wasn’t some other error in the system or an
update that wasn’t her fault that was creating the errors? Wow. So much for years of loyalty. I know how much time that stuff can take.
three, go ahead,” the leader interrupted my thoughts as I shook my head and
turned my body the other direction to hear the verdict from the other side of
the executive director of a nonprofit stood and faced the group. “She has had 15 years of loyal service. We thought it was in our best interest to sit
down and have a conversation with her, offer her help, see if the matter was
one in which she wanted to leave the position temporarily or permanently. We will give her support in finding help with
her drinking if that is necessary, and do what we can to get her back on track. She is a volunteer after all, and we don’t
need to jump to harsh conclusions or actions until we understand the totality
of the problem.” She sat back down.
that doesn’t seem to protect the organization fast, and is completely opposite
of the first group’s answer.
2?” The leader prompted.
spokeswoman, who worked for a large corporation, stood up and announced our
decision, an exact blend of the other two.
Starting with compassion and curiosity, and if the issue wasn’t fixed,
to take strong disciplinary action.
brain wiring determines how we make these kinds of decisions. Holy crap. And my group’s brain wiring has a blend of
both sides, which is why we are smaller and have a blend of both answers.
understanding hit me as ways to increase communication and synergy to pull two
conflicting sides together became clear.
and nurture both influence how we see and interact with the world as
individuals. The drama in the media of
all sides now shapes the tone and grace, or lack thereof, in which individuals choose to share their
opinions and the stories they hear.
mom told me that if I can’t say anything nice—-don’t say anything at all. I don’t believe that is true. Communication is necessary for a vibrant
community. We need to be able to
disagree, to have respectful conflict, to speak our minds, to share what is
disturbing us and why. However, it can
be done in a curious, educational, and amicable way. Are there people spouting melodrama and
hatred out there? Of course. Does that mean you need to match their
tone? Absolutely not.
something someone says triggers you and makes you extremely angry, is there a
way to pause, take a breath, and reply in a manner or tone that conveys your
disagreement in a way that opens communication? What kind of attitude and tone opens you to
listening to an opposing point of view? Try using that.
my challenge for you this week. Whether
it’s a disagreement with your child, your coworker, your friend, or on social
media, take a breath. Realize that
everyone has a right to their own opinion, no matter what information or lack
thereof informs it. You may not be able
to change someone’s mind, but you won’t for sure if you attack them. Ignore those who haven’t learned these lessons
yet, except to prompt them to please use a different tone.
give ourselves a chance to heal our communities and our relationships. Let’s
say what we need to, nicely.
It rained here near Stockholm last night. I know, Minnesotans right now are soaked, but here we are in a heat wave and a drought. It hasn’t rained since May in most areas in Sweden, and if there has been any, it was too little to nourish plants. They are reporting 61 independent wildfires in Sweden right now, with 4 of them being too big to be extinguished. There has been a fire ban on for at least a month, which means when I camp I have to bring things that do not need to be cooked, as even my little gas camp stove is illegal. My friend, Evelina, who lives here, commented that it is so dry, pieces of glass can create a magnifying effect and start fires.
Farmers are suffering, and there is talk of government help, but the people I talk to don’t seem to know exactly what that means. The main concern is the crops for the animals, and having enough food for them to survive the long winter. There were no true spring greens from anyone’s garden this year, and it is hard to find fresh produce in the stores.
Leaves look like this on many trees-or worse
It has been hot here, with highs this last week being a consistent 30-31° C (86-87.8° F). I know that doesn’t seem hot for many Minnesotans, but remember it is normally around 24° C (75° F.) Sweden does not really have air conditioning because it doesn’t stay hot long, and nights
usually get cooler. The house where I stay for example, doesn’t even own a fan. That is common. Busses and subways are hot and humid and bring on instant sweat. I have been finding beaches all over to visit just to bring my body temperature down for a few precious hours. It is interesting to me, as I didn’t have air conditioning in my house in Red Wing, and rarely turned it on in my house in Stillwater (more for humidity than heat.) But the lack of fans and air circulation really creates a difference in the experience of the heat. And Swedes are talking about the weather! I haven’t experienced that until this week.
You can see the mosses and grasses even close to the lake are very dry
Yet there are many bodies of water here. Stockholm is part of an archipelago, and there are many clean, beautiful lakes to be found here. It is an interesting juxtaposition-to have so much water yet see the
plants be so dry. But I find when I am hiking that the land is also very rocky in many spots, kind of like you would see near the north shore. Lots of moss and shallow-rooted trees breaking through the rocks.
Yesterday, I went to one of the islands called Lånholmen. Although it’s an island, it is part of the archipelago, and is very easily accessible as if you are just crossing a river. There is a great harbor here that contains mostly wooden boats (pictures below.)
Even though it is very hot for Swedes, they are all still actively outside, as summer is precious, and many are still on holiday. Most people get 6 weeks of holiday here per year, and they treasure it. Many people take their holiday in the summer, when they can enjoy the beauty of the country and relax after the midsommar parties.
Outdoor dance hall at Skansen
Last night, I went to an outdoor social dance and my friend Evelina taught me how to bugg, which is a popular Swedish traditional dance that is similar to a swing, but the steps are in a straight line instead of at an angle, and is also a bit more contained for those who are not professional dancers. Even though I love swing and salsa, this had a different feel to it, and was a bit challenging for me to follow the leads properly with many of the spins. But I tried, and people were very friendly and helpful as they taught me what I was doing wrong. 🙂
Public transport ferry in Stockholm
But it was hot, even with the outdoor atmosphere, so the ferry ride back across to Stockholm to take my train home was lovely and refreshing.
I hope this finds you all well and happy. Enjoy the summer weather, and if you are enjoying what I have to write, please comment! It’s so fun to get feedback from all the people back home. Now, I’m off to another beach, this time near Farstra Strand, then perhaps another round of dancing tonight.