More to Communication

My journey from India to India-na was long!

Precisely located in the opposite hemispheres, 8197 miles apart and a time difference of 9.5 hours or 10.5 hours (depending on whether it is the summer or winter solstice) between these two places! Immediately after reaching, my first prerogative was to get the best and the cheapest mechanism to communicate with my family! Thankfully, I met a group of volunteers on the very day of my arrival here, who facilitated my buying an affordable handset with an ‘India calling’. Bingo! Telecommunication, both in India and the US are comparable, and thus, touching base was not as much of an impediment as I had anticipated. However, what mattered more was the ‘right timings.’ It took quite a while for me to cope up that when I was available to interact with my people in India, it would be midnight and they’d be sleeping and vice versa.

Well, as I was getting used to with communication challenges with folks in India, I realized that that’s only part of the story. With much of my fieldwork in India and Africa, where most of my stakeholders are based and my research mentor operating from Switzerland, Europe, with a time gap of 6 hours, I realized that I had to grapple some more with ‘long distance communication’.

Much about long distance communication has been perceived in the limited context of personalized relationships, and there is extant discourse on longer distance arrangements which exist in the professional arena. Mention the context of professional communication, and the phrases which occur immediately are ‘SMART’ – specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time bound with what you would like to say, or rather your ‘asks’!

Also, be confident, presentable and have a comforting eye contact with the audience. However, with increasing tendencies to function in an intercultural global environment, there is growing propensity to professionally engage in virtual set ups. Be it colleagues and stakeholders, advisers or collaborators or even the research concentration population, it is more of a norm than an exception these days, that they function discretely from different cities, countries or even continents.

Practicing and coping with a triangle of long distance communication, here’re my two cents to manage long distance communication effectively, especially in professional engagements:

  • Use technology, it’s both cheap and ubiquitous. Whether text messages, emails, telephone calls, or video chatting, make the best use of these. Utilize smartphone apps that allow you to share photos, presentations, short videos and more. Just be sure to agree on what forms of communication you would use.
  • Plan ahead on a mutually convenient time slot – Be sure that you are being sensitive of the time zone of the other person(s), while also specifying the time zone you belong to. While some will, most people especially outside of the US might not be aware of time zones here. Thus, it is always helpful to mention both your time and the matching time of the other person.
  • Decide in advance what you’d like to interact on, preferably by making short notes. Similarly, after you finish, make a quick note of the discussion points, so that they are not lost.
  • Be sure to talk or discuss issues of concern. It might be possible to misinterpret an email or text or get annoyed if you feel your needs aren’t being met. Working on keeping the lines of communication open is a must in order to keep your long-distance communication in good shape.
  • …last but not the least, ‘be prepared for the worst’, communication outages! From freezing videos to calls dropping or never getting through – every possible technical snag and snap can happen. While, you can’t necessarily fix every such problem at that juncture, ensure to have alternative communication methods to compensate for and keep your cool!!

There is much to communication than the eyes can meet! photoTapati is a socio-behavioral scientist in community health. She is currently in her second year doctoral studies at the School of Public Health and majoring in Health Behavior. Her research emphasis is on multi-level community engagement in health policies, particularly in resource-limited country settings.Whenever any breather from her pedagogic assignments, she engages in painting or creative writing.

By Tapati Dutta
Tapati Dutta Doctoral Student