Molehills out of Mountains: Overcoming Communication Barriers

Successful relationships are built through effective communication. It is not always easy, but worthwhile things rarely are. The first thought that comes to mind with the mention of communication barriers is one of differing languages and social customs. Though those are certainly causes of consternation in many business situationmolehills, they are not the only culprits. Even for those from the same culture can have a difficult time really listening to one another and sharing thoughts in a professional manner.

As a copy editor, I work with writers from various backgrounds and expectations. One of the biggest barriers to having a successful writer-editor relationship is the inability to meet in person. I believe that face-to-face communication is often the most effective. Often more questions are raised and answered in this setting than are over email. For those who are visual and auditory learners, in-person meetings are a better option for sharing large amounts of information.

Differing literary backgrounds also present a challenge. Writers tend to write for the genre they most appreciate. When this differs from my own reading interests, it requires that I do a lot of reading and research to ensure that I will edit in the way the best fits that particular genre. Writing styles vary widely, as well, based on what authors the writer most reads. For example, J.R.R. Tolkien and James Patterson have extremely different “voices.” As such, it is essential that the writer and I communicate clearly on what the desired style to be.

I do not have team-based communications in the sense of teammates working for the same company because I work as a freelance editor. This, however, means that I am teamed together with the writer. There are two obstacles to working together as a team: clear understanding of goals and a clear understanding of jobs. Together we must establish the audience, desired length of the book, and a deadline. Knowing what is expected of each person needs to be established at the beginning of the project. We have to agree on what will be done with the corrections and comments I make. I have had writers who wanted to be involved in every little change and others who merely surrendered the text, happy to let me make whatever modifications I saw fit. Had we not set that expectation from the start there would have been confusion and frustration for both parties.

Intercultural communications add a whole new layer of barriers. I am fluent in Spanish and am very familiar with South American culture. With this, I have had the opportunity to edit and translate texts in Spanish. These experiences have taught me to be careful with how my critiques are worded. It would be easy to expect the same cultural and linguistic styles as the North American writers, but wholly unfair. Intercultural communications can be problematic, but the present a wonderful opportunity for two people to learn more about a culture that differs from their own.

Barriers are not insurmountable. They are walls with doors, requiring keys. They are mountains with tunnels in need of light. Knowledge and patience are the key and light needed to overcome those barriers, to turn mountains in to molehills. As we make others our priority, make an effort to listen to and learn more about them, our communication and relationships will continue to grow.

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