Nuances of Communication

Growing up, I was seen as a keen child. Perceptive in situations, I paid attention to my surroundings and understood situational contexts. I notice things immediately and have high sensory receptivity. If you place me in a crowded environment with lots of lights, moving parts and sounds, I would be overwhelmed since my senses would absorb everything all at once.

When I moved to the States, I found it difficult to connect with others. While I comprehended well and communicated in English, somewhere along the way I felt as if I had lost my voice. I felt limited, and the constraints of my environments– an underserved community where I could not find affirmation for my values of diligence, obedience and persistence– only added to feeling less free. I felt discontent, and at a young age when you tend to accept the situation around you as reality, I didn’t even realize I was stuck. It wasn’t that I fail in communicating with others, it’s that I didn’t find others who were like me that I was comfortable in connecting with.

College was a different story, and while that collegiate transition is naturally a big change for most of us– a time where big life shifts happen, maturity develops, knowledge is gained, and friendships are built– for me, college was a culture shock. I was exposed to new types of people who had a different way of speaking who came from various states. It was as if the world opened– not just one that was filled with opportunities, but I felt as if I was part of a bigger world. It was a world I didn’t know existed in the confines of my community. Nonetheless, I felt as if I didn’t connect as much with my peers as they did with each other. I felt different, and many people would say it was all in my head– I was as assimilated as someone who had been living in the States since their preschool days. To me, my perception of the differences between me and everyone else served as a barrier, and it didn’t help when most of the people you run into share the same cultural references and forms of expression. In a place when you feel different, you tend to think something is wrong with you, or with the situation.

Lately, I’ve been reading a few books on body language and nonverbal forms of expression, and it makes me appreciative of the multitude of ways that people communicate, even those that are bit eccentric ways. I realize that I grew up in a high-context culture where a lot of meanings are exchanged through nonverbal cues. Naturally, I have a tendency to say something and expect the other to understand what I’m saying- I place the onus on them to comprehend. This is because I grew up in Manila, in a culture that was quite homogenous, and most meanings are expressed beyond words. Living in the company of Americans for over 10 years now made me realize that my natural method of communicating does not align with a low-context culture like what is found here in the States. There’s a lot more emphasis on words and over-communicating is the best form of communication. I learned that saying the States is a melting pot goes beyond words, it is something to live– adapting with the cultural nuances, and taking the time to understand the differences in the form of communication, lifestyle and perceptions.

As a marketing professionals, my perception of both verbal and nonverbal messages are heightened. If I extend my experiences in communication beyond the States and project it to the world, it is amazing how challenging the task at hand is, especially in this globalized world. The multiplicity of cultures, languages, lifestyles, ethnicities, origin, time zones and behavior makes it almost impossible to develop integrated marketing communications. But there’s the opportunity that we can so easily ignore. Communications planning and messaging needs to be different. Disruptive even, to traditional ways of planning media. The traditional way is to find the least common denominator– ie. to find the commonality among the W25-54 target and project that to the entire demographic. I wonder how this method of targeting still works. A lot of assumptions are bundled with this approach- that people who are within the same gender and age group live similarly.

While this worked in the past due to limited knowledge of people and their behaviors, nowadays, there are better tools to use and a lot more data to mine. We now realize that people are incredibly different, and it is hard to plan in a “one size fits all” fashion. How then, do we create robust and integrated media plans for the future, in a world that is at once more fragmented and increasingly overlapping? If we try to approach it from a local context and plan based on specific geographies or in highly targeted measures, how then do we scale that to form efficiencies? This is a question worth asking.

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