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Try to Speak Their Language

Try To Speak Their Language

Try to Speak Their Language

This morning, I visited a business networking group in a suburb of Amsterdam called Amstelveen.

First of all, I was late.  I was so late.

The Dutch, like New Yorkers, are very prompt.  They pride themselves on three things: orderliness, cleanliness, and timeliness.

I have cleanliness down.

Orderliness and timeliness are challenges for me.

When You’re Too Excited…

Last evening, knowing I needed to get up about 5:30, I went to bed at 9:30 and promptly laid awake for 45 minutes.

Then I woke at 2 in the morning; at 2:45, I decided it was time to meditate (I have free meditations here).

I dropped back off to sleep at about 4.

So guess where I was in my sleep cycle at 5:30?


I’m talking deep, R.E.M., “you-ain’t-waking-me-for-a-fire,” kind of sleep.

After three “snoozes” and an inner, semi-conscious grapple that lasted 25 minutes, I finally dragged myself to the bathroom at 6:15.

The meeting was at 7:00 a.m.  In the email, they had advised that I really should be there at 6:45.

The trip from home-to-meeting, if I made the train, was 33 minutes.

Uh, Yeah…

I’m good, but I still can’t bend time as well as I’d like. Still, against all odds, I ended up arriving at 7:20, after everyone had already sat down and began networking.

In Dutch.

“Spreekt Jij Engels?”

I’ve been studying it for over a year now; and still, I only have a toddler’s grasp of Dutch.

I blew into the room and I knew enough to say, “Het spijt me; ik te laat (I’m sorry, I too late), before I found my seat…

…a spot in the middle of the room where a nice little printed table tent, a plastic container full of member business cards, where a little advice note on meeting etiquette – in Dutch — lay waiting patiently for me to arrive.

The president of the meeting introduced me in Dutch as I hurried to my seat. I heard my name, “chiropractie,” “New York,” and “wonen te Amsterdam laast maand” before the fellow gave me a break and asked me, “Is that right?” in English.

“Yes.  Ja. Yes,” I stammered as I navigated my big back pack, my handful of keys (remember my legendary set of keys in New York? Somehow, I’ve managed to collect a set of 20 keys for the locks in the city of Amsterdam), and my jacket around my seat.

The room of 50 business people then proceeded to conduct the whole meeting in adult – not toddler – Dutch.

“I’m an Amrrr-ican.”

Look. I know the reputation that people from the United States have.  English is the primary language, and although we have the opportunity to learn other languages in school, it is not mandatory. So it is rare that an American will speak other languages fluently.

I’m guilty.  I know just enough Spanish, French, German and Dutch to say “beer” in German, to order it in French, using Dutch pronouns, and adding, “por favor,” at the end.

Not So In Europe — And Everywhere Else

In the Netherlands, English is a mandatory language. Particularly in Amsterdam, everyone speaks English to at least a seventh-grade level of understanding.

So, I knew going in that everyone in the room would understand me if I spoke English.

But I also know that we, in the United States, have a bit of a reputation of not bothering to learn another countries’ culture and language.

There’s good reason for that.  I forget the exact number — 20 or 30 percent — but very few people from the United States ever visit a foreign country.  So, when are we going to use another language?

That is changing, however, as more and more people from different countries emigrate to the United States, and do business with U.S. over the Internet.

The World is Getting Smaller

I remember a networking group to which I was a part in Connecticut.  There was a woman from Ecuador – I’ll call her Lisa – who probably knew as much English as I know Dutch now.  She was a member of our group.

Lisa’s native tongue is Spanish; yet spoke nothing but English every single meeting.

She struggled and apologized and struggled some more to get her message across in English.  This is back when Google Translate was not even a thought in a developer’s head.

Everyone loved her for it.

Ten years later, she is still a member of that same group, and doing very well for herself.

Toddler Dutch

Like I said; my Dutch is kiddie Dutch. And I have Google Translate.

I thought of Lisa.

When it came time for me to stand up and introduce myself, I typed my speech into Google Translate on my phone, and I proceeded to read my speech in probably the worst Dutch pronunciation this group has ever heard.

I got an ovation.  When I gave an exit testimonial about how much I appreciated their hospitality – again, in Dutch – I got another ovation.

I also got an invitation to come back to the meeting, a few one-on-one appointments with members to get to know one anothers’ businesses, and a man who is fears the “cracking” sound that chiropractic sometimes makes who would like to try my services.

Not bad for a few minute’s effort.

Try To Speak Their Language

The Dutch are also very honest, straight-forward people.

More than one person said I was “very brave” to stand and speak to this room in Dutch; that other English speakers just “walk right in,” and “proceed to do everything in English.”

I don’t know if what they meant was that I was “brave.” I think what they were saying is that it was very considerate of me to try to speak to a group of people in their language, a language which I clearly have no mastery.

I learned a long time ago that, whatever way I perceive a situation, someone else perceives it a different way.

“Fix it, Doc!”

Most people come to a chiropractor because they are in pain, they can’t get out of it, and someone told them a chiropractor might help them.

That’s all they know. They want to get out of pain.  That’s why I first went to a chiropractor, too.

I’m now on the other end of that spectrum. I went through the physics, the chemistry, the organic chemistry, the biomechanics. I went through the neurology, the anatomy, the kinesiology, the art, science, and the philosophy of chiropractic.

Chiropractic now means something very different to me than to the average person on the street.

Bringing the Mountain to The People?

I once thought it was my job to bring people from “get out of pain” to “the sole purpose of chiropractic is to reunite man the physical with man the spiritual,” during the first visit.

At first, I had a lot of trouble recruiting patients to my practice.  People ended up going to “the pain guy” – whoever it was — down the street.

People don’t speak that language right away.  They may never learn that language.  You have to walk with them along their road before you point down the path of yours and begin to explain its twists and turns.

If they are called to “the mountain,” like me, they will have to make the effort to learn the language.

That takes time.  I was a chiropractic patient for fifteen years before I went to school as a chiropractor, and I didn’t speak the language when I went in.  It took me time to learn that language as well.

What Language Do You Have to Learn?

Do you need to learn how to speak your partner’s language? Your boss? Your child’s?  Whose perspective are you so bent upon converting to your own, that you are forgetting how to listen to them?

Find out where people are. Take the time to understand the language they are using when they speak to you about their struggles at work, school, on the playground, in the internet world, at home.

Meet Them Where They Are.

I once saw a chiropractor spend the entire first visit with a patient in his crowded waiting room, because it took all the effort in the world for that patient to even make it through his front door, let alone the examination room.  He examined and adjusted the patient right there, and got him to a place where he could walk around a few feet without excruciating pain in his back and legs, all in front of his other patients.

This doc is one of the most philosophical, spiritual chiropractors I have ever met. I barely understand what the hell he’s talking about when he speaks about the nature of chiropractic to a roomful of other doctors of chiropractic.  He’s way out there in the stratosphere, when it comes to chiropractic neurology and philosophy.

Notice, I said he had a crowded waiting room.

His Patients Know He Cares For Them

His patients, at first, don’t know that, when he finds the problem and addresses it, that he’s opening communication between their central nervous system and the rest of their body, that he’s clearing interference so that the body is able to heal itself more efficiently, and that, in his mind, he’s tapping into the forces of divine creation of which Rumi and Hafiz wrote about with such eloquence.

He first meets them where they are…in his waiting room, scared and in pain, hoping that somehow this guy can fix it.

Nothing brings that home than to try and explain chiropractic care in another language to a group of strangers who aren’t even looking for help.

In every ministry – be it parental, political, spiritual, intellectual, financial, legal, whatever…there is no way that we are able to deliver the message of health and healing if we don’t figure out what the person believes is wrong with them.

Faster Horses? Or A Better Way?

You know that famous quote about Henry Ford who said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

At least he knew their desire.  He knew the meta-message behind that request: that they wanted a better, faster, easier way to get from here to there, and they didn’t know how to go about it.

You know how to go about it.  But people don’t know need to know the method behind your genius.  They just want to know that you hear them, that you care, and that you will do everything you can to eliminate their trouble.

They Really Just Want to Know That You Care

And they want to know when you can’t. They want to know that, even if you can’t, you care about them.

And that’s the real meta-message. People want to know you care about them.

You do that by meeting people where they are, and trying to speak with the language they understand.

They don’t even need you to be fluent in their perception. They just need to know you’re trying.

Because, you really do care, don’t you?