Mind Your Tone

This is going out to those of you who might be coming to the Philippines to instruct or lead the local folks in some capacity. This is for people training fire fighters, health workers, church positions, whatever.

Mind your tone.


I’ve sat through some training seminars meant for local Filipinos, given by Americans (usually), where the tone starts to take this edge to it. This edge that implies that the teacher is so very much smarter than their clueless, third-world audience and that they are having to dumb it down like they are talking to children so their malnourished brains can take it all in.

If you’re coming to teach children, that’s one thing, I guess. But if you are in a room full of adults, and you are talking to them like children or acting inherently superior, know that they are offended, are tolerating you, and will be happy to see the back of you.  It’s simply bad leadership, and it indicates that you have no respect for those you teach.

Some things to keep in mind if you find yourself headed here to teach:

Your audience might be happy with how things are. If you don’t take the time to make your case and just think they should follow you because you had foresight to be born in America or Australia or Britain or where ever is not here, you may find that they simply aren’t interested in hearing what you have to say, let alone putting it to the test. You still need to back up your ideas.
They are not children. People receiving training from abroad like this are often professionals. Even if this isn’t a profession related training, they have been taking care of themselves quite well without your help thus far. Either way, if you don’t respect them enough to treat them like adults, they aren’t going to respect you enough to take in what you’re trying to teach.
Often, they will speak more languages than you. Two languages is pretty typical. Three is common, a smattering of 4 or 6 isn’t unheard of. They may not be most comfortable with English, though, so they may be processing everything you say a little slower than the audiences you are used to. But chances are good that if they’ve been asked to attend your training, they know English. Don’t mistake their delayed comprehension with incomprehension or general stupidity.

I’ve been around loud Americans here. I’ve been around lazy Americans here. I’ve been around stupid Americans here. There is no American I find more embarrassing to be around than the Savior American who arrives to teach their little Filipino children (a.k.a., a room full of competent adults) how to stop ruining their own lives with their clueless behaviors and opinions. Do not be that person. Be a professional. Listen. Do your research before you come, or as soon as you can after you arrive, and get a grasp of how things currently function and why. Do not assume anything. Prepare yourself mentally to deal with language difficulties and to maintain a professional tone at all times.

This is true not just when you are doing your actual teaching but every moment you are here. You are a guest here, so let’s think about your behavior in a smaller-scale way. Imagine yourself standing in your neighbor’s living room. Imagine your neighbor tells you a story of how their electric stove is broken and they are thinking of replacing it. Clearly, you tell them with a tone of superiority, you need to stop buying electric stoves and get a gas stove next time, even though it will require you to pay a great deal of money to have a gas line run to your house. Be sure to make them feel stupid and foolish for not having enough money to pay for both the stove and the gas line. Imagine yourself rolling your eyes when they offer you Coke instead of Pepsi. Imagine yourself insisting on leaving your shoes on at the door when they kindly ask you to remove them, and then getting angry at them when the heal of your shoe catches on their rug, causing it to tear.

How happy do you think they are going to be to have you in their home? How willing to hear what you have to say? That sort of behavior is the equivalent of what you are doing when you arrive here and stomp around angrily, because things aren’t what you are used to. It’s not your “home.” People understand that. But they don’t understand why you are getting so frustrated and rude about it not being your home. Chances are good that they are looking forward to the opportunity to be a gracious host and hearing what you have to say, but your behavior is making it a struggle for them to know how to help you. Breathe. Get your bearings. Acknowledge that things are different and that you could use some help. Be polite. Smile, don’t sigh, frown, or roll your eyes. Maintain neutral body language. Trust that when they tell you something specific to do, there is a reason for it.

If you are here because the people you are teaching seem to be repeating the same mistakes over and over, figure out why. Is it cheaper or easier to keep doing it the old way? Is it impossible with the way things currently are to do it differently? Address those concerns. If the issue is that they just don’t know another way, then address that. But again, do it professionally and respectfully, without condescension. Make your case.

The very best thing you could do is work to erase from your mind the West vs. Developing World paradigm that is drilled into us as Americans, and see people as people, no matter where they live. You are a person. You have knowledge, skill and/or money that is allowing you to teach other people. You have no idea what the background of the people you are teaching is. Just because they are in a certain field or from a certain country means nothing. They may have grown up in a squatter’s area and now be a millionaire. They may have been raised in homes larger than yours or gone to schools better than yours. They may have started their lives in privilege and ended up struggling. You don’t know, so don’t behave as if you do.


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