Sprechen Sie Deutsch?

Earlier this year I spent some time travelling around Germany, and this caused me to reflect a lot on communication. The majority of my travel was with many German-speaking colleagues, so I began taking for granted how easy it was to get around, follow street signs, and even order dinner! Over the weekend, however, as I ventured out on my own, the reality of being in a different country began to hit home.

I visited a restaurant where not a single employee spoke any English. I watched a couple seated across from me become very frustrated with their waitress and leave to find a different restaurant.

Despite my worry of sounding foolish, I attempted to say a few words of German (relying on my phrase book for some help). My waitress was so pleased that I had made the attempt that she immediately began to help me and even teach me a few words. This made me think that while clarity is integral to successful communication, maybe there is something just as important: commitment.

How committed are you when you communicate? Are you just saying the words because you have to, or do you engage in the message? I realized that my feeble attempt at a few rudimentary German words showed my commitment to the interaction. I could just have easily become frustrated or found a different restaurant, but by making the effort (regardless of any embarrassment I felt) the waitress engaged in the interaction and we worked towards clarity together.

Definitely a lesson that will stay with me. By the way, the meal was great.

Auf wiedersehen!