When you and your au pair struggle to communicate — even when you both speak English resonably well– it can be hard to know whether the problem is “attitude” or “comprehension”.
We see issue a lot in comments about au pairs who are given lists of tasks but don’t do them, or host parents who seem cold and uncaring.
• An au pair speaking to her host mom about how to toilet-train a toddler comes across as condescending and a “know it all”. But in her mind, she’s simply trying to show that she’s confident.
• An au pair says he can cook healthy meals for the kids. For the first week he’s been here, he’s make hot chicken fingers and peas, which the kids love. So why do the host parents keep nagging him about “healthy” dinners?
According experts*, three things can help you suss out whether it’s culture or attitude.
Repeat what others say in your own words to confirm your understanding. Ask the other person to do the same.
2. Define terms.
When it’s your turn to speak, invest time in creating common definitions of terms. Taking time now to define your terms – even if it’s only by asking a simple question such as “what do you mean by healthy” and then answering it – can save time and energy later on. Be patient, and plan for extra time for this.
3. Never assume that you understand each other– check for understanding.
Don’t take it for granted that everyone is using terms in the same way. Tone of voice may suggest understanding, but that doesn’t prove that you’re on the same page. It makes sense to double-check — and not by asking “Do you know what I mean?” Try instead “So a healthy meal would look like…. what?”
And then there’s the best advice I’ve ever been given:
Always have positive intent, and always assume positive intent.
Somehow that makes even the most awkward conversations more likely to succeed.
Other “cross-cultural tips”? Please share….
*From Ethan F. Becker, author of “Mastering Communication at Work” (McGraw-Hill)