TECHNICALLY SPEAKING: Tiny, Big Shrimp – Communication, Culture and DysfunctionBY ADAM ANDERSON



If the communicative relationship between your credit union and its technical staff resembles a string of foreign translation gaffes, then time, productivity and outcomes are likely being squandered. Learn what your tech team really means by some of its most common utterances. Spoiler alert: It’s likely not at all what you thought.

 Here is a fun party game when you have a meeting that includes international participants and a translator. First, focus on speaking as idiomatically as possible and using expressions that are highly regionalized. Next, ensure that every native English speaker understands the subtle implications of your turn of phrase. Last, watch hilarity ensue as your translator is forced to struggle through translating idioms like “throw under the bus” or “you can’t have a baby in one month with nine women.” Bonus points if you are at dinner, enjoying some alcohol, and then start to incorporate the saltier figurative language that English is known for.

The suggestion above is in jest, of course, as this is not only a terrible way to communicate with anyone but is also likely to result in wasted time and terrible partnership outcomes. I once spent 15 minutes at a Cajun restaurant trying to get the word “crawfish” adequately translated into Japanese. The translator eventually settled on “chiisai- oebi,” which literally means tiny, big shrimp. I realized this using my rudimentary Japanese skills from college and proceeded to waste another 30 minutes ridiculing his translation work. Fun? Hell yes. Productive? Not in the least.

Unfortunately, the relationship between business and technical staff in many settings follows this pattern (although with less hilarity and more tragedy). Both sides of the conversation use jargon and heavily loaded language that is not culturally compatible across the two groups. If you think that culture doesn’t matter in communication, stop reading here I guess, because the rest of this piece won’t really resonate with you. In my experience, communicating cross-culturally is difficult at best and the results of doing it poorly are disastrous.

Here are three things that technical resources will say and what they are likely to actually mean in contrast to what they literally mean:

That will never work.

In your financial institution, you probably have a series of processes that execute overnight (accrual, posting, fee processing, GL updates) and you need to complete the processing cycle more rapidly. You suggest to a developer who maintains these processes that your ordering would be more efficient and would allow some parts of the process to operate in parallel. On presentation of your idea, you are told flatly and without explanation, “That will never work.”

This feedback rarely means that your suggestion or request is actually impossible. It likely means that the individual or team has not really given this option any thought or has dismissed it out of hand because it is fundamentally not aligned with how they approach the problem. Often this kind of very emphatic and sometimes combative feedback (frequently accompanied by large hand gestures or a comically weary/frustrated tone of voice and substantial lack of eye contact) is the result of pushing for an answer to what feels like a simple question.

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