Building Relationships

Table of Contents

Please read the following material for insights on building healthy, fruitful relationships with DASH residents.

Cultural Barriers

By Ashley Freeman, DASH Founder and Board Member (edited with permission)

Sometimes the fear of offending another person, a focus on their differences, or just not knowing where to start or what to say can create barriers to building relationships cross-culturally.

  • Don’t fear. There is no perfect way to start a conversation or build a relationship with a newcomer, so don’t be so afraid. Just start!  Often newcomers are longing for natives to reach out to them, so they are likely to embrace your efforts regardless of the conversation topic. 
  • Don’t be the hero. If your conversations are all about how you will help, serve, fix, or teach the other person, then it will never develop into healthy friendship. Sharing your own struggles and asking for their advice or prayers can show them that they are not a project to be kept at a distance, but rather a friend that you trust. Real friends share their lives, their stories, and their thoughts.
  • Love. “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-5. When people become offended, usually it is because the opposite markers of love are being expressed (impatience, unkindness, envy, boasting, arrogance, insisting on one’s own way, resentment, etc.). If love is your disposition toward others, they will feel it. When someone knows you love them, even if you accidentally say something culturally inappropriate, your words will  likely be overlooked rather than taken as offensive. As scripture says, “Love covers a multitude of sins.”
  • Laugh. We have got to learn to laugh. African friends have told me, as if stating the weather, “You are looking very fat today.” I am sure that I have said equally “offensive” things to people from other cultures.  If you laugh and embrace the humor in these scenarios when one of you makes a cultural mistake, you may ultimately learn more about each other’s cultures as well as strengthen the friendship. 
  • Find common ground. I once heard that friendship is “standing shoulder to shoulder in awe of the same masterpiece.” In other words, look for something that you have in common, and start there. Do you both have small children? Do you both go to church? Do you have a friend in common? Focusing on what you have in common, especially when beginning a new friendship, will bring an atmosphere of peace and trust into the friendship.

We make peace by first discovering and discussing what we have in common with the other person, rather than having radar ears for what they say that is contrary. The worst conversation I can ever remember having with someone from another culture included the phrase, “You are wrong” more than once. This phrase does not build bridges and can hurt relationships. 

The Language Barrier

By Ashley Freeman, DASH Founder and Board Member (edited with permission)

Have you ever felt frustrated trying to communicate with a limited English speaker? By changing a few things about the way we speak, much frustration can be avoided and deeper relationships can be built. Here are a few practical tips:

  1. Speak slowly and clearly
  2. Choose your words. Stick to a very limited and simple vocabulary. 
  3. Avoid idioms. Many phrases may not make sense or may have multiple meanings.
    1. Confusing: “It’s a piece of cake.”
    2. Clear: “It was easy.”
  1. Use body language. Use hand gestures almost as if doing sign language or charades. 
  2. Drop unnecessary verbiage. Consider the simplest way to communicate.
  • Confusing: “In light of the fact that…”
  • Clear: “Because…”
  1. Keep each sentence short and clear. Separate each part of the message into a separate sentence or question. If the sentence structure is messy or verbose, the message can be lost even if you use simple vocabulary.
  1. Beware of verb tenses. For low-level English speakers, stick to the simple past, present, and future verb tenses.
  2. Be specific when using future tense. Even pulling out a calendar or clock to point to the date and time can be helpful.
  3. Don’t yell. When struggling to communicate with limited English speakers, it is comical that our natural inclination is to speak louder, as if hearing were their problem.
  4. Confirm understanding. Repeat back to them what they said to you. Do not just ask  if they understand what you said, because they will almost always say yes. Rather, ask them questions about what you said such as, “So, what time will you be there?” Also, if you are unclear about what you heard, don’t be afraid to ask them to explain. 
  5. Use Google Translate. Though it is not always entirely accurate, it can be a very helpful tool. Try translating it to their language and then back to English before sharing to make sure it actually makes sense.
  6. Other: If you will have some down time to converse, consider sharing photos of your family. When meeting someone new and overcoming language barriers, it’s helpful to have a topic you’re comfortable with to start a discussion.

Using these simple tricks will break down barriers to communication and allow the possibility for friendships to form even with limited English speakers.
As someone once said, “It’s just language. When you look deeper, the person underneath might be surprisingly similar to you.”

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