Listening and communication have played a vital role throughout my life. My father is Colombian and my mother is American and so I grew up speaking English and Spanish. It really wasn’t until I was in fourth grade that I realized that I was the only one in my school who came from two cultures and spoke two different languages. We spoke English at home unless of course we didn’t want someone to understand what we were saying, we would switch to Spanish or our own mix of Spanglish. Each summer, we would travel to Colombia to spend time with my father’s family. My cousins and the children in the neighborhood did not speak English, so if I wanted to play I had to figure out a way to communicate with the other kids. Using a combination of gestures, loud talking (in English, mind you!) and broken Spanish I figured out a way to let everyone know that I wanted to play too. Each summer, my Spanish would start out a little rusty but by the end of our stay I had learned more than the year before. I had overcome the communication barrier without even realizing there was a barrier.
My interest in communication and listening was piqued when I was in graduate school. I went to graduate school at the American University in Washington, DC, the most powerful and most diverse city in the United States. I had always wanted to live in DC because I loved the fact that you could walk in to a store and speak Spanish with the man at the register and then I could go in the next store and speak French with someone else (I studied French throughout grade school and high school). I wanted to live in a city where I could be bombarded by culture and languages.
At American University, I was pursuing my MA in French Studies and would hang out with all the other language majors in the language lab. One time, a fellow graduate decided to spend the weekend with my family. I am the oldest of four and after spending some time with us she remarked to me “it is amazing that you and your sisters and brother all communicate with your eyes.” In my head, I thought what is she talking about how in the world could someone communicate with their eyes. I heard what she was saying but didn’t really understand the meaning of it. But after thinking about it for a while I determined that she was right, a good majority of my communication with my siblings was through subtle eye movements and facial gestures. We, in essence, had created our own silent language, no words were spoken but we each knew exactly what was being said. Thinking back, the genesis of this “silent language” was in response to growing up with a very strict Latin American father.
While I was at American University, I was granted a fellowship. As part of my fellowship, I was required to work in the English Language Institute at the American University as a Teaching Assistant. So, I spent my days teaching reading, writing, grammar and communication to foreign students. My classes were so diverse and the classes were comprised of students from around the world of all age ranges and socio-economic levels - some were straight out of high school (or the equivalent) and some were diplomats in Washington, DC. My students would always ask me what was my favorite subject to teach and my response was always the same – COMMUNICATION. They would ask me why and I explained, “if you were driving to school and had a flat tire, you would need help, you would need to COMMUNICATE that you had a problem and it didn’t matter if your communication was grammatically correct, if you could write it down, or it you could read it – you just had to get a point across to another human being that you need help – COMMUNICATION! It was always the most important subject to me. I had become very enamored with the idea of communication and teaching so as I was completing my Masters in French Studies I began taking classes for a Masters in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) (who knew this major even existed – I didn’t!) TESOL was a new major that American University was exploring and I was one of the first to graduate with a Masters in TESOL in 19**. Many of the TESOL classes were linguistics classes. And for one particular class we had to do a major project – I chose to explore gestures across three different countries: Saudi Arabia, Spain and the US. I interviewed and filmed students making common gestures and had them explain what the gestures meant then I compared and contrasted the gestures in my presentation. My professor was so impressed by my project and after my class presentation he offered me a scholarship to attain my Doctorate in Anthropological Linguistics for free! I was so honored, but the thought of writing a thesis paper overwhelmed me.
The majority of my career has focused on Operations, Human Resources and Leadership Coaching. To be successful in these areas you HAVE to be a good listener. One of the cornerstone's of my success has been founded in the knowledge that people just want to be heard and it is humanity’s greatest desire to connect to one another in some way and it is mainly through communication.