Keeping the communication wheel rolling between cultures




To be able to deliver and receive information properly, lines of communication need to be open and active. What if the communication between is interfered by distance and culture? Do we wait for an email response for 3 weeks? Do we face people through other channels of communication?

During 2017, I have probably done so much work on a smartphone than ever before. Not because I like chatting, but because most times I am left with no choice. I have come across situations where the only possibility was to collect some information through Facebook private messages and WhatsApp. Some moments calls for you to act and respond fast.

When working with emerging markets, one had better learn to be flexible and very patient. Being originally from a developing country myself, I noticed that I too need a lot of patience when communicating with local partners and colleagues when in the field.

Communicating with Finnish colleagues when we are all in different continents.

With the world getting more and more hectic, very interesting and so unpredictable, you feel the urge to communicate often with your colleagues especially when in the field. Sometimes you need fresh information from each other; you want your colleagues to participate in team meetings online wherever they are etc.

Thanks to WhatsApp, my communication and information collections from long distances is much easier.

I have had to collect information through WhatsApp chats, WhatsApp calls and when necessary through WhatsApp voice notes. The next thing would be to move the voice notes and the chain of chats to my computer to store the data.

Communication with local partners; simplified by Technology, challenged by Culture

If you have worked with different people across cultures, the challenges of communication must be familiar. Thanks to technology, communication has become much easier than before.

Now if technology has brought the revolution and made it very easy to communicate, where are the communication challenges coming from? In my experience, the number one issue is “culture”.

For many in the North, emails remain to be the best way to communicate with local partners. What if there are no responses? What if one receives only a short email?

I could give an example of the way I would communicate with local partners who are Tanzanians. This is the simplest work for me, as I am also from Tanzania. When I write a mail and there is no response, I will turn into WhatsApp or even Facebook private messages. For some this sounds like invading people’s privacy, but in my culture and the way I would relate with colleagues, it’s not. It is just another way of contacting someone when I am not getting through to him or her through formal emails.

Recently I started sending short voice notes and asked the partners to do the same. This has worked very well. I have been able to receive a lot of information and this is very important for research. Nevertheless, I have been able to connect well with local partners, we have become closer and it is now much easier to discuss different matters.

New Global Project Specialist Emma Nkonoki voice messaging with local partners

When doing research, you need enough data, you want details, which you can analyze and pick out the most relevant ones by yourself. I have had experiences where I would get some information in a short email report and I would immediately sense that there is more to it than this. Through cultural interpretation of information that is written down or recorded it is easy to figure out that there is more to it than that. Most of the time the missing information can easily be said orally and not through writing. Some of us come from cultures that are traditionally not so used to writing much. When you tell us to “talk” / “tell” then we would tell you so much more.

One thing I know is that, it is not about being lazy or unprofessional; it is just the working culture and the general culture deep within people. After so many years of working with development projects, I can honestly say that there is still so much more that the North and the South need to accept and learn from each other in order to be able to work smoothly together. The so-called “ugly truth” is that, due to very strong cultural values from both sides, some things will never change, and we just have to find ways around and through to make our collaboration relationships easier.

Emma Nkonoki, January 2018