Last week I was asked to run an icebreaker at the first Parents & Teachers Association (PTA) meeting of the school yea,r at the International Foreign School that my daughter attends. The aim was to start our meeting with a fun activity that would energise everyone and make them feel connected in some way. A simple task you would think, but there I was faced with parents from over a dozen different countries and where English was the second (or sometimes third) language for many of them.
What else could I do but present an activity that would demonstrate how we can communicate in spite of our language differences?
I asked everyone if they knew the day on which they were born (their birthday), and having confirmed that they did, I then explained that I wanted everyone to form a line across our meeting room in order of each person’s birthday (by month and day).
Easy you say! The catch was they needed to do this task without talking to each other. I gave them some help by indicating which side of the room would be January and which side would be December and then left them to it.
What followed was a lot of nervous laughter, varied hand signals, head shaking and nodding, and lots of reshuffling of positions. At the end, other than a couple of misplaced birthdays, the group was pretty successful in arranging themselves correctly. It was a triumph over our language differences and an acknowledgement of something we all had in common – a birthday.
It got me thinking more broadly about how we communicate and connect with others. Humans share 99.9% of their genetic code and although we look, think and act differently; we share many of the same emotions, motivations, impulses, desires, strengths and weaknesses. We also share the need and desire for love, respect and being of value.
We all know that communication can sometimes be challenging and there are many potential barriers to communicating effectively. Recognising our common ground with others and using it as a basis from which to communicate can help us overcome many of these barriers strengthen our connection to others.
And just like the parents at our PTA meeting, sometimes you don’t even need words to make that connection!
The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.
The quality of your communication is the quality of your life.
Communication – the human connection – is the key to personal and career success.
Paul J. Meyer