Management Tips

How well do you keep your Babel Fish tuned?

Do you remember the Babel Fish? If you do then you remember how the Babel Fish could translate any language into something you could understand. All you had to do was put one in your ear and you were good to go.

If it was only that easy, huh?

We all need to use our own innate Babel Fish at times, don’t we? I like to think that I am somewhat intuitive and I do have a good grip on the English language but there are certainly times when a response to something I have said leaves me wondering if my Babel Fish is kaput. Its job is not necessarily to translate anything in your native language; however, mine gets confused at times because my native tongue is actually German. On occasion, the little bugger throws in an unwanted interpretation just by default.

I may have to have it extracted and re-calibrated to get it working properly.

If you could ask Arthur Dent he would surely tell you the Babel Fish was likely one of the best things he could have discovered in his travels around the universe. Having eliminated the challenge of language certainly opened him up to exploring all sorts of places with the confidence that he could get by without misinterpreting anything that was thrown at him.

If it was only that easy, huh?

The funny thing is that Canada and Toronto specifically is very much like the universe that Arthur Dent spent his time gallivanting around.

This city is filled with wild and wonderful characters from all different walks of life and with each comes a culture, language and communication style unto its own. The Babel Fish is very busy here.

Dealing with interpretation is a common challenge we all face on a day to day basis regardless of culture, heritage or nationality.

Notwithstanding the actual issue a foreign language presents we have to deal with barriers in our own language when trying to understand others. I find that quite regularly in my daily life. Influencers such as culture, education, demographics and even politics can turn what one person says when interpreted by another into a variety of possible outcomes.

Would you agree?

That’s why I think the Babel Fish is such an important commodity in our lives these days.

Imagine even 50 years ago.

Your world was much smaller and your local surroundings were filled primarily with people you understood well because they grew up in the same environment as you, they had the same values and understood the world in a similar manner. Sure, emigration was as big a deal as it is today but people sought out their own and created communities with others that were like-minded and culturally aligned.

Is that still relevant today?

I think so.

There are very distinct communities in Toronto which remain tight knit and as a result culturally rich. It’s one of the things that I love about this city. You can, on any given day, tune up your Babel Fish and experience pretty much any culture you like without leaving your own city. Most Torontonians are proud to be living in a multi-cultural city and take advantage of its rich culture regularly. We are blessed with the ability to broaden our perspective in an accessible and safe environment.

Has the internet opened up that opportunity to more of us?

It sure has but it comes with a responsibility and requires some skills development that challenges us all.

Interpretation, for one, is a skill that not everyone has honed at the best of times. Me included. IRL we face people every day and we have the innate social advantage of reading their expressions, body language and inflection in their voices in order to decide for ourselves how to interpret what they are saying. You don’t have to rely as heavily on your own influences, your own real life Babel Fish, in order to make an assessment and form a response.

Take away that natural ability to read someone and it becomes that much more difficult to understand someone’s true intentions.

Hey’ I’m not suggesting anything is impossible here but if you don’t consider it then you are kidding yourself, right?

At least I hope that I am right.

Not only now do you have exposure to demographics, education and politics but the influence of culture to understand when conversing with others on-line. Before you know who you are talking to how can you be sure your responses are acceptable and understood by others in the way you intended them to be?

Your Babel Fish was not built for this type of challenge in communication but the awesome thing about the Babel Fish is that it can adapt.

And adapt it will.

I can’t tell you how many times I have been shocked by a connection I have made on-line when I have found out where they live. It’s such a simple thing but it changes the relationship in a big, big way.

Or, what about this one?

I was conversing with another Canadian from Southern Ontario and I felt like I had a good sense of how they would react to something I say until I found out they were from a nationality I didn’t know much about.

I’m just sayin’……

Don’t you think we need to consider who we are talking to when we interact in this new world to ensure our message is not interpreted in an inappropriate way?

The only way I know to do that is to be courteous, respectful and as aware as I can be until I have spent enough time getting to know them a little better. Your own dialect, per se, you regional cultural sayings, your interpretation of day to day life are things that not everyone will understand implicitly out of the gate. Just like any new relationship it takes time to gain an understanding of who you are talking to and in this space, at least for me, it is critically important to keep your Babel Fish well tuned and well fed.

I love kidding around as much as the next guy and I do.

Both Bill and Danny know that about me; one I haven’t met and one I have. I take my IRL friendships as seriously as I do in the on-line spaces and people’s feelings are very important to me. I’m a softie but I am not soft.

Interpret that!

So, if I seem a little formal to you at first it is because I am German….er….because it comes from a place of respect. That’s where I start every relationship. I am a benefit of the doubt kind of guy and I am interested in spending the time to get to know you as best I can.

To understand you.

Jayme knows that and from the rocky beginning of our on-line relationship it has flourished into what I consider a valuable connection and the start of an important friendship for me.

Now I have to go feed my Babel Fish.

Over to you: What challenges do you find building relationships while navigating the on-line world?





P.S. What do you think we can learn from these little critters?


About this Author: Ralph Dopping (199 Posts)

A quirky sense-o-humour coupled with an indelible sense of stylish sarcasm makes it difficult to take the world too seriously doesn't it? My faves: fun, passion and hard work. I work here everyday:


Challenges building relationships online?


Ah, not much these days (but, I do find challenges building relationships offline as I am sort of an introvert, when it comes to meeting new people).


I think I keep my babel fish in a good state ;)


So many different cultures, so many different people (what matters is how we interpret things, right? Take in a different perspective - that's my principle!).


World is becoming smaller (or flat - we need to cooperate with all sorts of people  and so we need to keep our Babel fish in a great manner - keep them tuned :D).


Always been fascinated by world's diversity - just among my own surroundings. Take for example, where I was born in India itself. The language and the entire culture is different for a nearby state (I especially no this because I have lived in different states). And of course, far more differences when we travel outside of the country.


The way we speak, type, interpret, communicate. All is different. But, there are similarities too (Instead of worrying about the differences, embrace them :D)

Latest blog post: Contact Us

Jens-Petter Berget
Jens-Petter Berget

German? I had no idea. Well, we couldn't speak German better than English, because I'm terrible in German. Being Norwegian, I'd love to have a Babel Fish to help translate everything. I do my best to with the English language, but like you said, culture is a whole different part. Sometimes I feel like I'm nowhere close to understanding how many of my friends thinks and reacts, and I believe that's mostly due to the differences in culture. Humor, and you and Bill, that's a completely different topic :-)

Latest blog post:


The video is so hilarious!


Like I mention on my post, I worry about connotations. Words might hold different meaning for people from across the globe. The culture we come from is going to be different and words and sentences might hold different meaning. But I am learning slowly and let's see how it goes. 


I would really love to meet the people IRL.... looks like I have to travel a lot!

Soulati | Hybrid PR
Soulati | Hybrid PR

Ohheckinahandbasket. Yep, I have to agree...we didn't flourish at first 'cuz I interpreted a post of yours as in-your-face banter zazz, and you, the author, were not. So, in my customary way of direct commentary that ruffles some feathers or @billdorman speedo (not sure there's much ruffling in one of those, ahem), I left  you in the dirt!


Ralph, I have to say, that's not ever happened with anyone else, so you're quite special, and I appreciated King Bill's help in paving the way for our blossoming friendship.


Then @JennWhinnem had to unearth all that stuff once more and ruffle and rabble.  So, I knew I had to be in this post somewhere! Thanks for putting me at the end in the hopes that most people read 99% of the post and not 100%.


Latest blog post: Triberr Meets Influence

Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes
Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes

If you speak multiple languages it is even easier to understand how easy it is to misinterpret nuance and meaning.I am sure I have rankled a few feathers with comments that have been misinterpreted and or misunderstood.


Those G+ hangouts and Skype go a long way towards helping build connections that prevent some of these things from happening.


Hey Ralph, long time, no hear - LOL!


Forget other languages!  When you're writing your thoughts or reading what's on people's minds, I think there's a bit of 'intent' that can get lost in translation! Writing is different than speaking and you can accidently take a person's intent out of context.


I like this; "The only way I know to do that is to be courteous, respectful and as aware as I can be until I have spent enough time getting to know them a little better."


With a little luck, this can be maintained throughout the relationships we build online :o


Now adjusting my Babel Fish : )


Cheers sir!


Well then, that explains everything; German, huh? One of my key accounts is German owned and their US president is from Germany. I can have a drink with him but I don't think he would warm up to my good ol' boy, back slapping kind of attitude right away. Of course, he would probably drink me under the table but that's a different story.


I think I have 'offended' you a time or two because you thought I was being serious. It's easy for me to dish it out because I can take it (and expect it) back. But you make a good point that culturally you might need to be a little sensitive to someone's customs before just rushing through like a bull in a china shop. 


One thing I can be and that is me; it's not a good fit for everyone..............but most..............:).


Oh, we'll meet IRL and it will be on the golf course so we'll find out real quick what type of people we really are, huh? 


Happy Friday to you. 


Interesting. I just participated in a "Hecklers Hangout" hosted by Brian Vickery and Margie Clayman last evening, as they had guest Ellen Bremen on: author of "Say this, NOT that to your professor: 36 tips for college success"...a book geared to 16+ year old's in preparation for college.Ellen said we're in a "communication crisis", for one of the points you cited above...the fact that, online, we cannot see or experience the non-verbal cues that come with effective communication. We aren't even looking someone in the eye and "reading between the lines". And as we all know...written communication, whether that be email, text messaging or 140 character tweets, can DEFINITELY be misunderstood or misconstrued.


That's why face-to-face communication is even more important in this digital age. Add that to a melting pot of cultural and ethnic differences, and the complexities multiply.


So...I endeavour to listen well...check in to be sure I understand correctly what someone is saying...and strive to express myself for the benefit of the listener's ear. Cheers! Kaarina

rdopping moderator

 @Jeevanjacobjohn I love that line "Instead of worrying about the differences embrace them." That really nailed it for me. I heard that India has so many dialects, etc and I think most of Europe is like that too. In Germany every town has it's own regional dialect. It must be murder keeping up with all that diversity.


In good ole Canada we have some small variances across the country until you get to the Maritimes and then it's a whole new ballgame. Very, very different in Newfoundland.


Hey, I wonder what @Vidya Sury has to say about all that? She is one of your compatriates.

Thanks for gracing these halls again my good man. Always appreciated. Keep smilin' :-)

rdopping moderator

Hey  @timbo1973  I wouldn't worry about that @bdorman264 's type of English. That's a unique beast of its own. Nothing wrong with it but you know.....


Yep, you nailed it with the regionalisms for sure. It may be an interesting experiment to write a blog post using local colloquialisms and see what the responses are. Too funny.


Seriously, though, it is a concern when you do run into an issue and in business an incorrect interpretation can be deadly. People don't have time to over-analyse what you say at the best of times and if you screw up they are less likely to come back.


I would love to see England again. I will be in France (south) in a few weeks so we will see how the Babel Fish survives down there although coming from Canada I should have a handle on the French language (which I don't, sadly). The same goes in reverse. If you are ever in Canada, feel free to drop in and say hi.


Have a great week!.

rdopping moderator

Hey  @Jens the way you write I would have no idea that you find English challenging. I cannot imaging having to write in another language. For that alone you are to be commended.


That's what I love about this platform, social media, you get the chance to meet and hang out with cool people from all over the globe. I hope, in the future, we get a chance to meet for real and share a pizza (one of my favourite foods too).


Cultural differences is a big deal but one thing that I have realized is that good people are good people regardless of culture. Sure we may look at things in life slightly differently but in the end we are all like-minded in our attitude to be friendly, caring and honest people.


Thanks so much for dropping in. I am glad you had time in your busy life to leave your mark. I am excited to see what your new book is about. Cheers, Jens.

rdopping moderator

Hey  @Hajra  agreed. BTW, you wouldn't be the only one that would have to travel a lot. I guess there is some merit in have social media conferences, huh? At the minimum it's a place to put some "real life" in to some of these relationships.


@Marcus Sheridan wrote a great post about the value of social media conferences that hit home for me. Check is out if you have a sec. makes a whole lotta sense to me.


Thanks for dropping by. You are a good friend and I always appreciate your feedback. Keep smilin'......:-)

rdopping moderator

 @Soulati | B2B Social Media Marketing  Now why would you not want anyone to recognize you in the post......."putting me at the end in the hopes that most people read 99% of the post and not 100%" I was showing you some love my dear.


You know, I like that @jennwhinnem already. She is a bit of a s**t disturber and I LIKE IT! She's going to have to be ready to deflect a few bombs that may come her way.....;-)


 @Soulati | B2B Social Media Marketing  @JennWhinnem I love the incongruous. So when I saw you talking about zits when there were no zits, I was so intrigued. MY BAD! Never questioning you again. :p


Also...Jayme you've seen me on FB. I challenge people all the time. Never apologize!

rdopping moderator

 @thejoshuawilner Right as rain Joshua. I better get on that. The other thing that helps is if bloggers make the occasional video. It gives you a sense of who they are. Of course, that can't replace one on one interaction by a long shot.


Thanks for popping in and engaging with this crew. Appreciated.

rdopping moderator

Hey  @Mark_Harai  you are so bang on. We can't always get together and actually talk so in our form of correspondence there is a lot of room for interpretation. That's one great thing about blogging and the on-line platforms we have access to. Through images, writing, video, podcasts, etc we can express ourselves and leave  a sense of who we are. Nothing beats IRL conversations for the real truth but in this world that's not always possible.


You know, there are folks I have worked with for over 18months that I have never actually met. The most we have done is talk on the phone. Recently a guy came by the office and said he had to come by to meet me as he had this image in his head of who I was.


Well, it turns out I am not a bald midget with a goatee....;-)

rdopping moderator

 @bdorman264 Not surprised the German was a little rigid.


You know, there are really two types of Germans. The "sprockets" type - thin, tall, wears all black and crap diamonds they're so uptight and the jolly rosy cheeked half-drunk loosey goosey loud-mouth types. I got the best of both worlds. Uptight drunk-ass loud-mouth.........but I am a loveable guy.


Golf, there is no substitute......

rdopping moderator

 @KDillabough I think you have the right formula.


I would love to meet IRL each and every person I meet on-line but I know how unrealistic that really is. I think that's a reality in life now so we need to adapt as people to make sure we can get to essence of what we want to say and what is being said. It's a meshugenah.


Maybe I just need to find the Google+ hangouts and join in occasionally. 


 @rdopping LOL!  And here I thought you were a bald midget with a goatee!


Just Joshin' you ; )  


That smile you have is infectious - and straight out of Germany, no less : o