I recently read some good material from Anthropological Insights for Missionaries by Paul Hiebert about cross cultural communications. I want to share it with you, not only to bring insight into what we must be aware of while teaching in Africa, but also to give you food for thought for your own life. Successful communication is important for every relationship, whether that of a missionary teacher and his students, a husband and wife, a parent and child, or friendships.
"How do we measure successful communication? Ordinarily we think we have communicated when we have sent or spoken a message. For example, as missionaries we often measure our communications by the number of sermons we preach or classes we teach. When people misunderstand us, we say, "But I said ...." In this we are assuming that communication is only the speaking of a message. However, communication must be measured not by the messages we speak but by the messages the people receive. It must be understood by the people and meet their needs. There is little use in preaching and teaching if people misunderstand the message. The person communicating must be the one to take responsibility to make the message understood. As communicators we must test to see if the people understand us, and if they do not, we must take the blame."
"There can be a big difference between the message we send and the way other people receive and interpret it. People tend to see and hear what they want to see and hear. Their deeper beliefs, feelings, and values act as filters that open when they want to hear the message, and close when they do not. They can also reinterpret its meaning to fit their purposes, or fit to change in response to it. On the other hand, they tend to listen when they believe the message to be relevant and helpful to themselves. They decide to a great extent whether or not our message gets through. It is important, therefore, that the people trust us, and that our message is clear, credible, and relevant to those whom we are communicating."
"How do we know when our messages are misunderstood? The answer is in listening to those receiving the message. We are usually so intent upon sending the message that we do not hear the responses of our listeners. Good communication begins with the art of listening. We need to be sensitive to people's facial expressions, gestures, voice tones, and body postures, which say much about their attitudes and responses to the message. A teacher can encourage discussion and listen to it carefully. A missionary can ask the people how they understood the message. Feedback should modify our communication, immediately and continually. If we see that people do not understand the message on the cognitive level, we need to slow down, simplify the material, go over it again, illustrate it with concrete examples, or stop and let them ask questions. If they are dubious or rejecting of the message, we must stop to build trust and examine ourselves for possible sources of misunderstanding."
May the peace of Christ be with you,
Br. Nathan Dunlap