Is it "Soda" or "Pop"?

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Karee Jensen
  • 341st Medical Operations Squadron commander
What do you call a syrupy, carbonated beverage? Depending on what part of the country you are from, you may call it pop, soda or coke. Why is that? We are all individuals with unique backgrounds, varying cultures and life experiences. These foundations in concert with your interactions with others and decisions you have made, has molded you into the person you are today.

Why does this matter? Because it demonstrates the different ways we perceive the world and shapes how we effectively communicate with each other. This reality hit me hard when I was deployed to provide care to Haitian refugees 18 years ago. I had no culture or language immersion training to prepare me for this mission. Working as a nurse in labor and delivery, I quickly learned the French Creole terms for "breathe," "push," and "don't push!" It also became apparent that communication came from more than just spoken words. The touch of a hand, tone of a voice, timing of communication, expressions and body language said so much more than words alone.

Did I effectively communicate from that point forward? No! Another deployment several years later to Afghanistan made me realize there was even more to communicating effectively. I did have culture and language training this time, which was great -- I knew more words.

Working as a medical mentor in an Afghanistan regional army hospital was quite different than performing hands-on patient care with the Haitian refugees. I relied heavily on interpreters. The language I had learned in my immersion training was not the only dialect spoken in the region. My first interpreter was fluent in multiple dialects; unfortunately, he intermingled them when he translated. Each time I spoke, the translation caused my mentee to have a total look of confusion on his face. It's amazing how the look of confusion can transcend cultures. I learned that communication is a two-way street. You must make sure the message you are sending is understood as well as the message you are receiving.

What does this have to do with you? Communication is a key activity we engage in daily. It is critical to the success of our mission.

Does your body language and non-verbal communication detract from the message you are trying to send? Is the intended message getting through? Do you listen, or are you formulating a response in your mind while the other individual is speaking? If you don't understand what is being said, do you ask for clarification? If offended by what is said, do you try to clarify what the speaker may have really meant or do you bottle up your frustration?

Key points for effective communication include starting with the basics of respect and courtesy. Be open and honest; make sure your body language matches your words and observe the receiver's body language. This will clue you in on possible misperceptions. Verify the message you are sending has been both received and understood.

The next time you are enjoying a cold 'soda' or 'pop,' keep in mind that we all have different life experiences, which influence our perception but in the end, we must communicate effectively to accomplish the mission.