Monday, May 17, 2010

Experiencing the Immersion that Leads to Learnng

This blog is a personal reflection on time spent in Mexico and the learning that emerged.
Once again I have immersed myself into a Latin culture and have experienced the dislocation of place and identity that moves me to an experience of intense personal observation and reflection. Each time I come into this community I find that I must first adjust my hearing and listening. My friends are speaking Spanish and my mastery of this language is still in its infancy. I pick up every third or fourth word, make assumptions about meaning, and am hesitant to say `no I didn’t understand that’. I am very aware that the literal translation of words does not capture meaning – and for me I suspect that the last thing that I will really get in this language is the jokes.
As I struggle to understand I observe a few things that happen to me; I listen very intently, I must watch the face of the person who is speaking, and I pay attention to gestures and facial experiences. My mind processes what I am hearing and asks `what am I understanding’, and `do I have the words to respond to what is being said’. I am reminded of the practice of active listening as it is described in the process of dialogue – listening for meaning, paying attention to my own assumptions, holding curiosity. It would be easier at times to sit back, stop listening and not be present, to not try to understand, however I value these relationships too much to allow any appearance of disinterest appear in my demeanor.
When I return home I want to be reminded of the importance of paying attention, to the energy that I put into listening when I am in conversations. Do I listen as intently, do I pay attention to what is being communicated in addition to the words being spoken, am I listening to each word or am I assuming the meaning that is being spoken and getting ahead of the speaker, do I recognize when I am not understanding and do I take the time to ask the questions.
As I write about this experience I find myself reflecting on why I hesitate to declare my lack of understanding and I recognize a few reasons: I am reluctant to acknowledge that I didn’t understand, I am reluctant to alter the flow of the conversation if I interject with an `I don’t understand’, I am embarrassed to acknowledge my lack of knowledge (in this case of the language however at home it might be the subject matter), I struggle with being a novice when in most areas of my life I operate from a place of expertise.
Philippe Rosinski, author of Coaching Across Cultures identifies that the cross culture environment provides a unique chance to step outside one’s comfort zone. Adapting to differences requires you to bravely step outside and experiment with changing some of your behaviors. This time I am paying attention to my patterns of communication, choosing to hone my listening skills, and choosing to stay outside of my comfort zone a little longer before I seek out people who speak my language and make it easier for me to relax back into what I know.

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