Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Speaking in Tongues

Juani gets a tutorial from a client
Let me be very clear up front:  I am one of the most fortunate people on the Morocco 6 team.  I am one of four people on the time whose first language is English, and English is the official language of the project.  I am also one of four people on the team with a working understanding of French, which is the primary language our clients use in the office.   I’ve also been doing strategy consulting as my day job, which means I’m used to sitting down with clients, investigating their objectives, and working with them to come up with strategies.  This means I have twice the opportunity to understand and reflect on what is being said (once in French and once in English) in a addition to background in working on this type of environment, which almost no one else has.

And still, this work is hard.

Consulting is almost never straightforward; it takes a long time to properly understand a client, their mission, their needs, their strengths and their weaknesses.  But for me, the path that leads from discovery to solution is what makes it interesting and worth doing.  Nearly 75% of the way through this CSC assignment, I find myself reflecting on how many things I take for granted when I start new projects at home.  Everyone speaks English.  We’ve all been working in the world of Defense for several years.  Usually, we have a common understanding of the overarching mission of the leadership above us before we even get started.   Things that are confusing can be clarified with little to no trouble.

This project is just 4 weeks long, we had almost no background on the project going in, and our client is ambitious and focused, which is good – but it means they expect a lot.  We’re also juggling 3-4 languages (English, French, Spanish, and Arabic).  None of us have a shared understanding of the operating environment, but everyone has great ideas.  Things that are confusing need time to unravel, because we need to translate from one language to another, and even the same word translated directly holds different meaning for people who come from different corners of the world.  I have tremendous respect for the incredible professionals on this team who have none of the advantages I have but are still providing great value to their clients.  Honestly I don't know how they are all doing it (to those of you reading the blog, hats off to you ;).

Kavya Listening Intently
Our work is also based on improving methods of communication.  Our client, ANAPEC, is a public organization charged with bringing job offerers and job seekers together more effectively – and we’ve been asked to help them understand how they communicate and provide support to thousands of Moroccan job seekers who can’t sit down face to face with an ANAPEC job counselor either because of proximity or their schedule.  Technology makes this possible, but the introduction of new methods can also cause confusion and decrease understanding.  The parallels and ironies of working on a communications project in an environment where communication is difficult are never far from my mind during the workday.

The good news is that this difficulty is making me listen more, think harder, and reflect more before I react.  Because it’s so difficult to clarify a misunderstanding, choosing my words wisely – and choosing when to speak at all – has become much more important.  We’re getting better at it every day.  We’re also making good use of our sense of humor to diffuse tension and our hands to make ourselves understood.  I found myself thinking today as I watched my English speaking teammate communicate pretty effectively with a French-speaking client that the true sign of being in an international work environment is that our arms and our smiles speak more clearly than our tongues.

#ibmcsc morocco6

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