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February 28, 2011

Translation in Communication

Hi everyone, I am working on an assignment in Design for Six Sigma and come across an interesting point about communication that I want to share. The point comes from the thinkest book (that I could find @@) on Six Sigma in library and actually, it was not a bad choice as I found not just basic methodologies, histories, case studies on Six Sigma but also discussions and thoughts of other scholars as well as the author. 

The issue I want to raise is translation in communication. Translation is needed, of couse, when different languages involved in a conversation. What I mean by different languages is not only linguistic languages but also technical or professional languages.

Although there are different contexts of communication, I find the concept of translation works the same. It reminds me of my class on Multi-Cultural Communication in my under-grad course. Once, we were showned a video of an American firm coming to Indonesia, looking for local partners. The American representative in the video failed desperately, he was turned down by local Indonesian firms at the first time they met. Reasons given were critiques from Indonesian executives that the American firm people could not speak Indonesian. They said if American companies wanted to do business in Indonesia, it was their jobs to speak Indonesian not expecting local Indonesian employees to learn English. More importantly, another critique was the Indonesian executive expected a couple of visiting trips between two companies for both couterparts getting to know each others to build up trust first rather than mentioning business projects and contracts right in the first meeting.

Although during the conversation, both sides spoke English frequently, no linguistic barriers occured, the cultural barrier remained and it was more critical than ever as, at the end, the American representative still had no idea why he failed, it had been the way his company worked for years. On the American perspective, firms trusted in laws, and as long as both sides complied with relevant laws, it was not necessary to spend more time and effort understanding partners' businesses.

Our lesson did not mention which of Western or Easten approaches was better, as people were different and things worked differently at different places. The only lesson we learnt was understanding each others to a certain extent would secure communication and collaboration better. In the specific context of the video case, translation means understanding each others' business culture.

Back to my Six Sigma assignment and the book I refer to, from my previous understanding, what Six Sigma means to a quality manager is a change in manufacturing process which requires a new management style. On the other hand, a shop floor worker is more likely to reckon Six Sigma as a change in their interaction with working patterns which would be added with statistical tools. On a higher level of management, an executive might see Six Sigma in terms of short-term investment and long-term return, or in a simpler word, money. The author presented the argument where quality professionals blamed management people for lack of support while the author, a quality expert himself, supported the other side by arguing that it was the job of quality professionals to use the language of management to get their ideas across. He debated that the whole quality community should not have expected their executives to understand technical terms like 3.4 DPMO, DMAIV methodology or Taguchi method... but translated specific Six Sigma projects into monetary terms. Although I don't totally with the monetary equivalence, it should mean more than that for strategy formulators, I find it reasonable that undertanding the language of management should be expected from quality professionals to implement a sucessful Six Sigma project. 

Talking about the most interesting module that I have had, Leadership & Excellence ;), what does translation mean to leader in a leadership context? or in more particular, what does a leader need to communicate with their followers??

From the first task when we were assigned to make a leadership definition, what I have been having in my mind is a leader should understand the needs and potentials of participants before being able to make them their followers. From my accummulated thoughts about communication and translation, I think that it would be more effective if a leader could translate the common goals into individual needs and individual potentials. In doing that, a leader might have more chance to sucessfully unify participants as it would make more sense for individuals to see what they could do and what they could benefit from contributing to common tasks. However, this is just a first step which takes one small part in communication, for the rest of the leading role, they are motivation, facilitation, involvement ... and they are other stories about leadership :P.

Mentioning about making long-term goals understandable to employees, in their own 'languages', I think about Hoshin Kanri, the Policy Deployment ;) but I think I have written way too much @@. If I continue, the chance one would read will drop desperately. As far as I concern, in the language of many readers, a long entry means little enthusiasm to read ;P!

Anyway, my conclusion is that in any context of communication, it is important to understand the message in the 'languages' of receivers.



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