The Human Centered Design Podcast with Gerry Scullion

Heather Hansen ‘Unmuted: Breaking Language Barriers and Redefining Communication in Organizations’

John Carter
July 20, 2023
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Heather Hansen ‘Unmuted: Breaking Language Barriers and Redefining Communication in Organizations’

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Episode shownotes

Hello and welcome to another episode of This is HCD. I'm delighted to have you with me for another cracking episode this time with Heather Hansen.. author of the book Unmuted a fantastic book for anyone practicing their craft in organisations who strive to improve comprehension, understanding and better and more effective use of language.

As many of you will probably know, my name is Gerry Scullion and I'm a service designer based in Ireland. I offer service design training, user experience design training and also my Visualisation Methods for Change Makers course on my website and offer this in house for businesses. So if you're in an organisation and looking for training, please get in touch with me.

So let me tell you about Heather.

Heather is based in Singapore where they run Global Speech Academy, an organisation focussed on improving the quality of communication across the departments and teams. We chat in great detail about language bias. Heather comes from the US and we speak about all of that jargon that permeates the tech business such as “ping me” or “circle back” - where this comes from what and not only what under pins it but also the affect this has on a day to day basis. It’s exclusionary and exclusive.



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Episode Transcript

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[00:00:00] Gerry Scullion: So what can we do for people within leadership positions to become aware of the multicultural, the multi diverse range of behaviors when it comes to the different communication styles? Yeah,

[00:00:12] Heather: you put that very, very well because it is exactly that. It is showing up and playing to the biases of the leadership.

[00:00:19] Heather: And of course, many of those are unconscious and the leadership isn't aware that they have them. So it really all starts in self awareness and knowing yourself, knowing your biases, knowing your own culture so that you can better understand the differences in other cultures. And then having a very curious mindset where you are looking, constantly looking and trying to understand.

[00:00:53] Gerry Scullion: Hello and welcome to another episode of This Is Hate CD. I'm delighted to have you with me for another cracking episode, this time for [00:01:00] the wonderful Heather Hansen, author of the book Unmuted, a fantastic book for anyone practicing their craft within organizations who strive to improve their comprehension, their understanding, and their better and more effective use of language.

[00:01:14] Gerry Scullion: As many of you probably know, my name is Gerry Scullion. And I'm a service designer based in Ireland. And I offer service design training, user experience design training, and also my visualization methods for changemakers course on my website. And I offer this in house for businesses too. So, if you're an organization looking for training, please get in touch with me.

[00:01:33] Gerry Scullion: So let me tell you a little bit about Heather. Heather is based in Singapore where they run the Global Speech Academy, an organization focused on improving the quality of communication across departments and teams. Now we chat in great detail about language bias. Heather comes from the U. S. and we speak about all that jargon that permeates the tech industry such as ping me or circle back.

[00:01:57] Gerry Scullion: Where does this come from? And not only what [00:02:00] underpins it, but also the effect that this has on a day to day basis. It's exclusionary and ultimately it's exclusive. Heather's awesome, so let's jump straight into it. Heather, great to have you in the show. Um, you know, for our listeners, maybe start off, tell us a little bit about yourself and where you are from.

[00:02:19] Heather: Thanks so much for having me, Jerry. I am originally from California. I was born and raised in a very small town, in the very middle of the state. And as soon as I finished university, I got out of there. And I moved to Denmark, where I spent four years before moving to Singapore. My background in education is in international studies, if you haven't guessed, with a focus in language and society.

[00:02:42] Heather: So I've always been very, very interested in how We are communicating using the English language across languages and cultures. And I've just always been very interested in, in language. I also have a bachelor's degree in German. I speak Danish fluently since I'm now married to a Dane and lived in [00:03:00] Denmark for eight years, and now we're raising.

[00:03:02] Heather: To third culture kids here in Singapore, where I have a corporate training from focusing on communication skills in multinational companies.

[00:03:10] Gerry Scullion: So an American living in Denmark, now living in Singapore, what does the benefit of those three different perspectives give you in your career?

[00:03:23] Heather: It's enormous perspective.

[00:03:25] Heather: I think it's been such a gift that I've had that opportunity to live on three different continents and three radically different cultures. Uh, and, and that's what I really love about Singapore is how international it is. So every single conversation that I'm a part of has people from many different countries, many different languages.

[00:03:45] Heather: You know, we have a dinner party and we invite 12 people and they all have these Just random backgrounds of all these different, they're all mixes of everywhere, and we might have like 18 languages around the table. It's, it's amazing. And that makes life [00:04:00] really, really interesting. And it teaches you how to, how to be curious and how to listen and how to observe and, and learn about people and people's behavior in a different way, I think.

[00:04:12] Gerry Scullion: So what does, um, when you have those, those dinner parties and there's 18 people sitting around the room, um, The common language is English, correct? Is that the language you kind of default? What do you notice when you have people who are non native English speakers, when they interpret um, you know, different dialogues and different, because we were talking before, I'm Irish, but I lived in Australia, how we deliver um, you know, our intent.

[00:04:43] Gerry Scullion: Tends to, uh, come from a place where you're natively kind of reared. So, me being Irish, when I speak, uh, English, it's fluent to me. But if someone's learning English as a second or maybe a third or even a fourth language, sometimes things can get misconstrued. Is that fair to [00:05:00] say?

[00:05:00] Heather: Absolutely. Absolutely. And what's funny is that the people who speak English as a second, third, fourth, fifth language usually think it's their fault, like, oh, my English is so bad.

[00:05:11] Heather: My English isn't good enough. And they'll have this kind of self consciousness around speaking up at the dinner table in those social situations or in the work situations. But the reality that I have found is that in these multicultural, multilingual communities and contexts, it tends to be. Us, the, the native speakers who are a bit more of the problem because we show up and we speak really fast.

[00:05:35] Heather: We have a lot of cultural expressions that we use, a lot of idioms. I mean, there are so many things that you could say right now that I wouldn't even understand and we're both native English speakers, right? So it takes a lot of, um, conscious communication on our part and choosing our words wisely, slowing down our speaking rate, um, trying to be more culturally neutral in the way we use.

[00:05:57] Heather: the language so that we aren't [00:06:00] bringing so much of the cultural context that we can't expect our listener to understand. And these are the kinds of miscommunications that we're seeing in the workplace as well that cause a lot of problems.

[00:06:11] Gerry Scullion: I remember when I moved to Australia, um, the second time and, uh, if anyone who's Irish was listening, you're, you're probably.

[00:06:19] Gerry Scullion: Might get a chuckle out of this one, but we were all out for lunch, and I was working in an ad agency, and you know, we're both native English speakers. We both have, you know, full grasp of the language, and someone walked by, and they looked a little bit funny, and I went, hey, would you look at your man over there, would you?

[00:06:37] Gerry Scullion: Um, The Australian looked at me and was like, sorry, would you look at your man across the road? And his response was, he's not my

[00:06:46] Heather: man. Not my man? I'd say the same thing. What are you talking about? That's not my husband. What are you talking about?

[00:06:52] Gerry Scullion: You know what I mean? Like your man over there and he's like, but he's not my man.

[00:06:57] Gerry Scullion: Why are you saying your man? I don't own him. [00:07:00] And I'm like. Ah, Janie Mac. He's gone now. It doesn't matter. The joke is over, like, you know. I just want to point out that he was wearing a dog tail or something. Um, I remember saying to myself when I went home, I was like, okay, I'm going to have to radically change how, how I phrase things and, you know, react and respond.

[00:07:20] Gerry Scullion: So, the question to you is, the, the conversations that we, we've had, uh, already, you know, in the last half hour, I suppose. We, we've all already kind of become a little bit more familiar with ourselves. We kind of know how to deliver, um, uh, communication between the two of us. How, how do you find people have to alter their communication styles when they're working within organizations?

[00:07:45] Gerry Scullion: What does that look like? What are the problems with this?

[00:07:49] Heather: Yeah, it's quite complex. So first of all, I think it's important to point out that in the global economy. It is run and [00:08:00] led by a lot of Western ideals. So we see management, leadership, all the business books, leadership books, strategic leadership programs and, and courses that everyone goes on are very much based in the Western world.

[00:08:16] Heather: Absolutely. So. So these companies are running top down with very Western ideas, even when they aren't necessarily located in the Western world. So although we sit in Singapore, we. Are inundated with a lot of Western thinking, and there is a strong desire to, to communicate and work in a very Western style, even though that may not be natural for the individuals involved.

[00:08:44] Heather: So, one of the big miscommunications problems that we see is this, uh, kind of East versus West, very direct versus more circular, or, Cyclical style of communication, um, much more, uh, openness, loudness, talking for the [00:09:00] sake of talking versus showing respect by staying silent. Yet the Western world of thinking, saying, well, if you aren't speaking up, you must not have something to say.

[00:09:08] Heather: So you aren't really contributing and you aren't a strong contributor on the team. We have a lot of these kinds of misunderstandings simply based on the style and the way that people show up in, in a boardroom and misreading those signals, uh, you know. Not speaking up is a huge sign of respect if you're with someone who is a lot older or more senior or a boss or a leader.

[00:09:31] Heather: Even if that leader has said a million times, just tell me what you think and say what you want to say and speak up. I'm open to anything. That can be really, really uncomfortable for, for people in other cultures. The way that we look at communication is really driven by this Western ideal. Even when we talk about professional presence, uh, we're looking at leadership markers that are very Western.

[00:09:53] Heather: So, you know, do you speak up, do you have a strong voice? Do you take up space? Do you, uh, all of these kinds of [00:10:00] markers are, are from a very Western perspective. So when you get into the global business world, things start to change and we aren't always ready for that if we aren't aware of what's going on.

[00:10:11] Gerry Scullion: So. Whenever we're talking about communication, we're just talking about verbal communication at the moment. Okay, so some of the things that you mentioned there were nonverbal communications. One of the key aspects for successful communicators is the ability to listen. And what I'm hearing there is biases from the leaders are kind of coming to the front and expecting people to deliver based on their own set of biases.

[00:10:36] Gerry Scullion: So what can we do for people within leadership positions to become aware of the multicultural, the multi, multi diverse, um, range of behaviors when it comes to the different communication

[00:10:50] Heather: styles? Yeah, you, you put that very, very well, because it is exactly that. It is showing up and playing to the biases of the leadership.

[00:10:58] Heather: And of course, many of those are [00:11:00] unconscious and the leadership isn't aware that they have them. So it really all starts in self awareness and knowing yourself, knowing your biases, knowing your own culture so that you can better understand the differences in other cultures. And then having a very curious mindset where you are looking, constantly looking and trying to understand.

[00:11:19] Heather: And we are the differences here. Even though I truly believe underneath it all we are very, very similar in our needs, our wants, our, our need to belong, our need to be acknowledged. Uh, yet we go about meeting those needs in very different ways. And, and that's where the leadership needs to be more understanding.

[00:11:37] Heather: And it does come back to exactly what you said around listening. Really. listening, not to solve the problem, not to fix the people, not to, um, find a solution, but just simply to listen and understand. And I don't think we've ever been taught that, especially from a Western perspective, we're taught to listen and solve problems, uh, to come up with a solution, be the first one with a solution, be [00:12:00] the best, be the fastest.

[00:12:01] Heather: And in doing so. We overlook a lot of people. We don't hear people and we actually aren't taking advantage of our best talent. They're, they're being overlooked and not seen. And that's a real, a real loss. I feel there's,

[00:12:16] Gerry Scullion: I'm in the middle of doing a lot of research. Um, I'm kind of, I'm doing a keynote next week in Scotland.

[00:12:24] Gerry Scullion: Um, A lot of the research has gone down into the world of complexity theory and understanding the different kind of dynamics that are involved when you look at complex problems and complex systems. So one of the pieces that's become really clear is the ability to listen is one of the potential kind of powers of being able to solve and work within that complexity, um, and the ability to listen and fix.

[00:12:53] Gerry Scullion: Is that inherently western? Is that something that you believe that we're taught [00:13:00] from education or home or society? Where does that come from? Because what's required to work in complex problems is the ability to remain open and nurture like a, like a coach or a mentor.

[00:13:17] Heather: That's a really good question, uh, which I haven't really thought much about, where exactly that need comes from, and whether it's specifically Western.

[00:13:29] Heather: It would strike me as being more Western, but that could be my own biases as well, uh, because we are. Taught to find the solution at the same time. If we look at a lot of the education systems out here in Singapore, for example, or China, it is also very solution focused. It is perhaps even more so because they're trained really to.

[00:13:52] Heather: Listen, and then ace the test, um, so it's all about finding the solution, and there isn't a [00:14:00] lot of speaking up in your class, there isn't a lot of discussion, whereas in the West we have a lot more of that from a very young age, of voicing our opinions and having discussion and debate and, and really tossing ideas around, whereas here the educational system would not be raising them in that way, uh, so that's a really interesting question and something I'd probably need to.

[00:14:22] Gerry Scullion: Because one of the things like for listeners of the podcast, they'll know I'm in the midst of creating a design school for children between the ages of six and 12 called the Makers and Doers School. And again, in research mode, um, I'm learning that. Children that are in the educational process at the moment are going to be faced with problems that are, you know, absolutely more complex than we had as children, um, working in complex systems, dealing with global, um, global warming and climate change.

[00:14:53] Gerry Scullion: They need to build a resilience. Um, and they need to be able to handle that level of complexity and being [00:15:00] able to work together and, um, problem solve, but not problem solve to solve the problem instantly, like we were talking about there. When you look to the future, and I know you have two kids yourself, um, what are the kind of skills that you're, fostering at home, and you'd like to see others foster in their children to become better communicators.

[00:15:23] Heather: Curiosity is number one. No, I

[00:15:26] Gerry Scullion: want to stop on that one, curiosity, because curiosity, I hate when I jump in in the middle of someone and say that. What do you mean by curiosity? Because people will say, yeah, okay, we can, we can use this as a, as a sort of a general response. Tell me exactly what you mean by that.

[00:15:43] Heather: I would define it as being open minded. So, it's being open to different ideas and learning about different things. So that is how I would personally define curiosity, um, actually asking questions about the world around you. Um, I [00:16:00] was actually quite pleased that was One of the best things that happened going back to Denmark was that we were there for just four and a half years when my kids were between, they were three and five when we moved there and we stayed for five years and then we came back to Singapore.

[00:16:14] Heather: And so they got some very early year education there. And so the youngest. The youngest was in one of the forest preschools, which I think really instilled in her this idea of curiosity. Every day they pile onto a bus, they go out to a forest and they open the doors and the kids run in every direction and climb up trees, fall off trees, swing, get dirty.

[00:16:34] Heather: I don't even know what they were doing. It was massive culture shock when we moved back at the first day, I took my daughter home because we were almost in tears. It was freezing for us from Singapore, seven degrees. And, uh, The kids were everywhere and we thought they were crazy. We thought let's try again tomorrow.

[00:16:51] Heather: Um, but she got used to it very quickly and she loved it and I think it gave her a certain level of confidence um, self confidence and independence [00:17:00] and also that it sparked that curiosity to go out and explore and to learn and try new things And give it a shot Uh, I think that's at the base of really everything that we do.

[00:17:10] Heather: So Having having that open mind. Um Especially in learning, I think is really important. It sounds like the school you're, you're creating would be very much along those lines. Yeah. So that I think is a big one. Is

[00:17:26] Gerry Scullion: that, um, in Denmark, I know, like when you look at Finland, um, The kindergarten, the kindergartens, like the, the garden is actually is, is where it comes from.

[00:17:38] Gerry Scullion: Um, is that what you were talking about there? Like the whole kind of the ability to go out and, you know, forage and explore and climb and, and really play, um, and I, I love that whole kind of mind. Is that what you were talking about there? Is that, was that kindergarten?

[00:17:51] Heather: Yeah, In Denmark, it's called skogbørnehav, so if you translate that, it's a forest.

[00:17:59] Heather: Children's [00:18:00] garden. So it, that is what it is. It's our version of preschool. So it's what you would do before you go into a formal kindergarten class before first grade. Uh, so, so that's what it was. So the three year old got to experience that. My older one did not. And I think, actually, I wish I had held her back and put her into that for one year just to have the experience, because I think the younger one got some real skills there that the older one missed out on.

[00:18:27] Gerry Scullion: Yeah, fair enough. So you wrote a book, you've written lots of books when I'm on your website, um, called Unmuted. Okay, so you were in Singapore when you wrote this, correct?

[00:18:39] Heather: Yes. Yeah, that was written here in Singapore. Um, during the beginning of the pandemic, I was writing that when we all went on to zoom calls.

[00:18:48] Heather: And the only thing you heard at the beginning of every single call was you're on mute. Uh, that sort of inspired the title because I realized that long before all of our video calls, lots of [00:19:00] people were on mute in their companies and their families, even in their communities. And. It's all about how do we start listening and hearing more of these global voices?

[00:19:10] Heather: Who are we overlooking? Who isn't speaking up? Why are they not speaking up? Are they trying to? And we just are shutting them down every time. So it's about really bringing all the voices to the table, especially in business so that we can have the greatest. Innovations and the most advancement and really reach our potential because I think right now we're squandering it.

[00:19:30] Heather: This can't possibly be the best human existence has to offer. I mean, our, our world is a mess. There's got to be better ideas out there and either those people aren't sharing them or we just aren't listening to them. Either way, we need to figure it out.

[00:19:44] Gerry Scullion: So what does it look like? Um, it sounds like the goal of the book is to provide platforms for people to be able to communicate.

[00:19:55] Gerry Scullion: What would it look like if an entire organization bought your book [00:20:00] and all of a sudden, uh, they read it over the weekend and Monday morning everyone starts to speak?

[00:20:05] Heather: Oh, I wish that they would read it over the weekend. We are working with companies where we take them through an unmuted journey where They are all reading the book along together and we supplement that with training and conversations and, and those kinds of things.

[00:20:18] Heather: So we are seeing how that is happening now. And really what it's about is being a much more inclusive organization. So it's focused on a framework, which is a Venn diagram. We all love a good Venn and conscious. Conscious communication is our first little circle. Confident is the second and connected is the third.

[00:20:37] Heather: And we need all three of those in equal measure to be unmuted. So if you think about someone who's confident and connected, but they aren't conscious, that overlap, those voices are too loud. And we all know that person. And if we don't know that person, we need to look at ourselves because it's likely us.

[00:20:54] Heather: Uh, you know, the person who just isn't. Very conscious of the energy in the room or the cultural differences, and they just talk the [00:21:00] whole time and talk over everybody because, and, and maybe they don't mean to, they think that they're the leader, they need to do the talking, or nobody's speaking up, so they're going to fill the silence, right?

[00:21:11] Heather: Uh, there's a lot of reasons for that. So, so we look at, you know, who are the voices that are too loud? Which ones are too soft that are lacking confidence and which ones are on mute? Those are the people who usually feel that they don't belong or aren't connected or don't feel psychologically safe in the organization.

[00:21:25] Heather: So the book is really taking a much more holistic view on communication than simply how to give a good presentation and how to show up on your zoom call. Uh, and that was really the goal of the book.

[00:21:36] Gerry Scullion: I noticed, um, on your website that there's, you've lots of different types of training. So. Even down to the granular of email writing, all the way down through to online presentations and stuff.

[00:21:49] Gerry Scullion: A question there about what would it look like if everyone started to speak up? Um, there's other skills there that I'm kind of trying to understand a little bit more around timing. [00:22:00] and respect. How do organizations manage this? Like, how do they, if you hire everyone who looks like me, the same sort of personality and skill set in the background, I'm going to clash.

[00:22:13] Gerry Scullion: Okay. I'm going to be clashing with, with variances of myself. I'm like, let me speak. Let me speak. You know, like I'm, I'm verbal, okay, and I'm expressive, but how do you manage that? How do you manage it when you're, uh, within an organization where there's lots of communication, there's lots of noise?

[00:22:31] Heather: Yeah, it's constant, it's constant, and most of it is.

[00:22:35] Heather: multilingual, multicultural. The very, very first step, and it's the first chapter of the book, is who are you? So again, it's what we mentioned earlier, it's going back to that self awareness piece. So we do a lot of, uh, different assessments and things to identify what are our communication styles. You are already well aware, you're talkative, you're There are some people who don't realize that they're as [00:23:00] dominant as they really are, that they are as talkative, that they need to express themselves verbally and could be dominating meetings for example.

[00:23:08] Heather: They aren't quite aware of that. So it all starts with that self awareness and then the cultural elements of how, uh, The different cultures function and the different communication styles of the different cultures so that they can better understand each other and why they may be speaking up more or less or not at all.

[00:23:25] Heather: Uh, we also do an unmuted assessment to figure out, you know, where in the. diagram they sit or feel most comfortable. And then it's about really, um, having a lot of conversations around breaking that down in the specific teams and groups so that they can start finding better ways to bridge the gaps and really start listening to each other.

[00:23:45] Heather: So we find that. meetings have to slow down tremendously. We have to leave more space for silence. I mean, I speak two foreign languages, so I understand that sometimes it just takes that split second more to get the [00:24:00] confidence to raise my hand and speak up. I'm a very different person in Danish than I am in English, for example.

[00:24:05] Heather: I'll never be the first to throw my hand up or speak in the front of the room. Whereas in English, you couldn't stop me if you tried. So I'm very much a loud voice in English. But in Danish, I become very soft. I turn down my volume or I'll just stay on mute because I don't feel comfortable in the space or because someone has made fun of my accent every time I open my mouth or has to keep pointing out that I'm a foreigner or whatever it might be.

[00:24:28] Heather: Uh, so it's really raising awareness about all of those issues. And then when we get into the space, finding ways and creating new agreements around how we are communicating with each other, both spoken and written, um, you know, managing time zones, scheduling meetings at appropriate times. It's amazing how many American meetings are scheduled that are at 11 o'clock at night in Singapore and no one has even thought about it.

[00:24:51] Heather: And then they say no one in the Asia office turns on their cameras or speaks up while they're in their pajamas trying to stay awake on the call. So there are [00:25:00] some really, really simple. Simple no brainer. You think, doesn't everyone know this? And yet it's never been discussed or brought up. So it's bringing a lot of those kinds of issues and concerns to light.

[00:25:13] Gerry Scullion: So you mentioned there about doing an assessment and you potentially like probably sitting in on some Zoom calls and sitting in in meetings and stuff. When you look at where AI is going at the moment, AI, I should get a jingle for every time someone mentions AI. Yeah, really. Is there, is there potential there for Someone like Zoom or even a Google to, to be able to do a dynamic analysis of who's being dominant, who's being negative, you know, you're kind of, yeah, your communication style and how it's, uh, you've been graded at the end of your meeting, who was anonymous grading.

[00:25:54] Gerry Scullion: There's a whole potential there. If we

[00:25:57] Heather: already have it, Jerry, we already [00:26:00] have it. I already integrated into my programs. Yes. So we already have AI tools that we can bring into a zoom call or a team's call or Google meet, you name it. And based on who is speaking, the AI analysis is grading in the background.

[00:26:14] Heather: We can see afterwards. How many minutes each person spoke, we can see their speaking pace, we can see how many fillers they used and what percentage of their communication was ums and uhs. Uh, we, we can see a lot of very, very interesting things and that in itself is incredibly eye opening. Then the generative AI of course can go in and say, You could have rephrased this more concisely and it will rewrite the entire transcript of the meeting, or it can create the meeting notes, uh, that can then be sent out to the participants.

[00:26:45] Heather: So that is already here. That is already here. Um, and it's happening. Would

[00:26:51] Gerry Scullion: you mind giving a shout out to the, the AI tools that you're using?

[00:26:55] Heather: The tool that I use and I've integrated, and I've been consulting with the [00:27:00] founders of this company since close to the beginning is called Youdli. ai. Y O O D L I.

[00:27:06] Heather: ai. Uh, and they also have, um, a massive. Contract with Toastmasters that they've rolled out to all the Toastmasters speakers. I integrate it into all of my one on one presentation skills, articulation, coaching, and then we use it to analyze meetings and as well. And there's also a private function so you can bring it in so that it will only listen to you.

[00:27:28] Heather: So you don't have to worry so much about privacy concerns because it really isn't right to bring that in and not let the other people in the room know about it. So there is a privacy version that will only record you so that it does not, um, overstep. Yeah. I think the ethics is really important in this as

[00:27:45] Gerry Scullion: well.

[00:27:45] Gerry Scullion: Yeah, absolutely. Well, yeah. Who knows what's happening in the AI space? It moves at such a rapid space, rapid pace, that things change, you know, on the error probably. Um, so with going back to Unmuted, [00:28:00] okay. You've, when did you launch the book? About a year ago, was it?

[00:28:03] Heather: Yeah. About a year ago. It came out in the UK in March and the US in May last year.

[00:28:08] Gerry Scullion: So people can get hold of the book. Um, it's, I know it's available everywhere on the internet. I had to Google it this morning when I was having my Weetabix. So what does it look like, uh, what problems did you see that might have been missed in the creation of this book based on the kind of the development in the AI space?

[00:28:29] Gerry Scullion: So where are the bits that you wish you could go back a year ago and you might have added to the book?

[00:28:35] Heather: That's a great question. Um, very much . . You're good at this. You, you've done this a few times. I've done one before. You

[00:28:47] Heather: Yeah. I think it might be even more pertinent with the next book. I'm writing on accent bias, but where I see AI and generative. Making a huge [00:29:00] difference now is in how people are able to express themselves, especially in writing. Um, because this could break down a lot of the barriers around the self confidence issues that, that speakers, international speakers of English might have.

[00:29:17] Heather: Um, if, if they're able to take an email they've written and throw it into, AI and say, correct this for grammar mistakes. I mean, we already have this with things like Grammarly, but even just to get better written context or to say, I want to write an email on this and how, how would I phrase this in the most concise way?

[00:29:36] Heather: And, and it's written for them error free or so they think, uh, then it, it could be a game changer in that sense. Um, I think it's a scary game changer in a lot of ways. I think another way, though, would be more the translation and the instantaneous interpretation. I think that could make [00:30:00] much of my research and what I talk and train on almost a moot point.

[00:30:05] Heather: Because what if we all could start just speaking our own languages? All the time that there was absolutely no need to learn a foreign language because there's instant translation in everything. We already have that. Um, Microsoft has integrated that, you know, you can be on a call and turn on the instant translation and you can watch the subtitles come up in your language.

[00:30:25] Heather: We already have a lot of this tech and it's being integrated in different ways. And that interests me a lot. I wonder where that's going to go. Um,

[00:30:36] Gerry Scullion: when you think about it. What would that look like, say if, um, the, the language was able to be dynamically translated back into the native language of the other person?

[00:30:47] Gerry Scullion: Um, say, obviously I speak English and I was speaking to somebody in Cantonese, um, and they were able to get a, a sort of a transcript or an audio version of what I was saying back to them. [00:31:00] What are the potential? Um, areas of conflict that could happen just, just out of, we both had the same intent. We both wanted to get a positive outcome of it.

[00:31:09] Gerry Scullion: What are the risks there, um, with the two differences of the language,

[00:31:15] Heather: how the language is spoken? Yeah, I think, yeah, the biggest risks would come down to cultural style. You know, what, what we read between the lines. Um, and we would be missing that quite a bit in translation. So that, I think, would be the largest risk.

[00:31:31] Heather: At the same time, it could, it could really level the playing field if suddenly the English speaker didn't have the power and control of the language and of the global economy. I don't think that... English speakers realize how much privilege we have simply because we were born into English. We enter a room, we have the confidence of the language, we don't need to translate anything in our head, we can respond immediately with exactly the words we're thinking and feeling.

[00:31:57] Heather: Now, if someone speaking Cantonese could do the [00:32:00] same while they're speaking Cantonese, well, now that English skill, you know, isn't as important as we all think it is, and It gives a new voice to everyone else, the great majority of people in the world. Um, and that, that's what I find most interesting. But I think the risk there would definitely be what is lost in translation.

[00:32:22] Heather: We, we know Google Translate is not fantastic. It still is not fantastic. Please do not use that as your end all be all of communication across languages. And it really isn't great. And it's because there's a lot of culture wrapped up in language. If you were to. Yeah. And if you were to word for word, translate an idiom, like not the sharpest tool in the shed and translate that, what meaning does that have to someone from China?

[00:32:48] Heather: You know, and there's so many like that.

[00:32:52] Gerry Scullion: I, I worked, uh, you know, with, many German people over the last number of years. And, uh, in Ireland, they're like, Oh, [00:33:00] man, how was that working with German people? That's what they say to me. And I'm like, what are hilarious. OK, right. And like, there's a stereotype, this bias that everyone and when I speak to the German people, they're always saying, Oh, there's this really interesting German phrase, but it doesn't translate into English.

[00:33:19] Gerry Scullion: We you kind of have to understand it when they break it down for me. Yeah, they're. They're not great jokes. I'll be honest with you. Like when they translate into English, but in German, apparently they're very, very funny. So those nuances, it sounds like there's, there's a lot of work to be done because those nuances obviously change and they're adoptive quite, quite quickly in terms of social situations.

[00:33:43] Gerry Scullion: Is that right?

[00:33:44] Heather: Yeah. And I'm usually telling native English speakers, especially to remove all of these idioms from their speech. I mean, Americans are the worst, you know? Uh, The, the whole nine yards and touch base and foul ball and in the end zone. We [00:34:00] have all these American, you know, football and baseball terms and phrases that we use and we don't even realize that they are from those sports, you know, touch base is an international little phrase.

[00:34:13] Heather: And yet if you were to translate it, what the heck does it mean? You know, touch what? What are you going to touch? Why are you touching me? What do you mean? So unless you've specifically learned that phrase, touch base doesn't make a lot of sense. Uh, and when we stop and go, Oh yeah, how else would we say that?

[00:34:28] Heather: I will call you next week. I will write you an email. I will contact you. I mean, what do we really mean when we say touch base? Um, so, so I'm constantly telling native speakers to knock it off. To use an idiom, knock it off. And you know, how, how would you translate that? Knock it, knock what off of what, what does that mean?

[00:34:50] Heather: Right. We use these constantly and we have to learn how to reduce them and remove them in global context. And then on the other side, the [00:35:00] international. Speakers will come to me saying, teach me all the idioms in the world. They go to their English teachers. I want to learn idioms. That's what every upper intermediate English learner wants to know, the idioms.

[00:35:10] Heather: And, and I say, stop teaching them. Um, and when I'm forced to teach them, I will say, I'm only teaching them so you can understand the people around you. And I don't want you to ever use them because if you don't understand them, other people don't either. So why, why do we continue this? You know, um, that's

[00:35:30] Gerry Scullion: It's probably a social way of pigeonholing of who, who gets it and who doesn't get it.

[00:35:37] Gerry Scullion: It is probably a way of siphoning and removing and kind of strengthening the group.

[00:35:44] Heather: Or it's a power play. Because you show, right, because yeah, you separate the group between the people in the loop, in the loop, again, in our little circle of understanding, and those who are not, and so it's also a [00:36:00] power play of, oh, well, you know, because the person who doesn't understand very, very rarely in a business context, are they going to raise their hand and say, I'm sorry, um, what was that that you said?

[00:36:10] Heather: I didn't understand that they'll just nod and smile and pretend they knew because they don't want to look dumb in front of the boss. And that's what's really happening in these meetings. And then everyone goes their separate ways and thinks that they have an understanding and they don't. Where, where the people who have that strong command of the language and the privilege that we have, we're able to use that as a, as a power play to really ensure that we maintain power in the situation.

[00:36:35] Heather: That we're the ones that are seen as eloquent and knowledgeable and know our stuff. Uh, versus the people who are not contributing, uh, or, you know, never understand or are always quiet. So, so there's a lot of this going on. There's a lot of bias, a lot of privilege, and we aren't really talking about it from a linguistic perspective.

[00:36:54] Heather: It's a part of diversity inclusion that's completely missing. It's not even on the table, uh, and we're [00:37:00] starting to hear a lot about accent, but it's even deeper than that, just at language, at the basics of language.

[00:37:07] Gerry Scullion: It's very, very true. Um, Heather, we're coming towards the end of the episode here. Um, so if people want to get in touch with you, I'm on your LinkedIn here at the moment, so I'll throw a link to your LinkedIn on into the notes.

[00:37:21] Gerry Scullion: Um, but what's your favorite website and what's the best way for people to get in touch with you?

[00:37:27] Heather: Well, my author website and where I post things about the talks that I give is heatherhansen. com and you can also learn a lot about Unmuted and get the book there. And if you're interested in the corporate training that we run and the larger communication skills training, that's globalspeechacademy.

[00:37:43] Heather: com. But feel free to drop me a line on LinkedIn. I love communicating with everyone there. So, uh, happy to talk to people there.

[00:37:50] Gerry Scullion: Look, thank you so much for giving me your time. I know it's your evening in Singapore. Um, I really appreciated it and, uh, wish you the very best to look with the, the next book that comes out.

[00:37:59] Gerry Scullion: Make sure you [00:38:00] let us know when that's out and we'll have you back on the podcast for sure. Thanks

[00:38:03] Heather: so much, Gerry. It's been a great conversation. Thanks for having me.

[00:38:10] Gerry Scullion: There you go, folks. I hope you enjoyed that episode. And if you enjoyed it and want to listen to more, why not visit thisishcd. com where you can learn more about what we were up to and also explore our courses whilst you're there. Thanks again for listening.

John Carter
Tech Vlogger & YouTuber

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