Communication is key. As many translators and language instructors know, it’s one thing to teach someone to speak a foreign language, it’s yet another issue to teach them how to communicate. That’s why many translators find themselves in the world of cross cultural consultancy. What is perceived as an acceptable way of getting the message across in one environment, may be entirely unsuitable in another. For example, a plane or boat crew dealing with a dangerous situation are best to throw their diplomatic skills overboard. Yet, at the same time, there is need for reflection on the directness of social media and how we address each other via Twitter and Facebook, especially in terms of foreign policy affairs, due to cultural differences.
In the past year, I witnessed a series of events that culminated in a break down of communication between people who, due to the nature of how entrepreneurs often work, have been friends and use the services of each others’ small businesses. It seems that business chats over dinner or promises of payments over a picnic can be, sadly, a recipe for disaster. Throw in some personal curve balls of relationship ups and downs, stress in this time of economic malaise and thus threats to subjective well being and one is dealing with a pressure cooker that is ready to explode. We may forget to remember why we were friends who went into business together in the first place and make a judgement call, even though it’s a fact that we are not neutral in our interpretation of a situation and thus what is a reality or truth is always subjective. When we forget this, it stands in the way of finding an integrative solution. I too dismissed from my mind the option to ask questions, listen carefully and get things in writing.
Good advice that I learned this week from a successful businessman who set up a company with his classmates, is not necessarily never to mix business with your friends. But if you do, take the next professional step and create a contract. Yes, that’s BEFORE any service, any introduction, any product is rendered, made or sold. A document that sets up the exact parameters of the deal, signed by all involved with a clear ‘what if’ clause (what if I do X for your company but it goes into administration, what if I take on the running costs for time Y but you can’t pay me back, what if I am the mediator between company A and B and the collaboration is a big success/failure?). Research has shown that gossip has its role. But when it comes to money and friends, clear and direct communication signed and honoured by all involved is the way to avoid that metaphorical plane crash.