Communication Conundrum

It’s no secret that many people in Bali are poor communicators. This is only exemplified in a world where many cultures expect instant reactions and instant results. These differences lead to a clash of cultures between foreigners and locals in Bali because a lack of clear communication leads to misunderstandings, frustration and both sides taking offence. This is not simply due to language difficulties, but also due to assumptions made by the people at either end of the communication. Using communication platforms such as SMS, Whatsapp and Line can only add to these misunderstandings, amplified by the fact that the sender can see when the recipient has read the message. So if there is no response, a question is raised: “Why?” This is a reason foreigners are often labeled as pushy, overbearing and demanding; even though they don’t mean to appear this way: fluid communication is the norm in the West, whereas here it can be seen as something that puts people under pressure, therefore negative.

Even expats who have lived in Bali for many decades still feel frustration when dealing with public officials or people in a hierarchical system (for example, a school, a village committee etc). The most common complaint is about Indonesian men. I’ve been trying to work out why this is and I have a number of theories after discussing with a few locals:

  1. They don’t know how to answer because they don’t know the solution;
  2.  They don’t want to be bothered answering because they have other “more important” things to do;
  3.  They don’t’ know the solution but they want to try first behind the scenes before they answer;
  4.  They don’t want to work even though they are getting a (nowadays, relatively good) salary to do their job, i.e. a form of corruption;
  5.  Males are slower to adapt to newer forms of communication and technology compared with their female counterparts (this is particularly true with social media);
  6.  Males often use social media and communication platforms as a form of entertainment or humour: for example, sending pornographic images and video unrelated to a particular group or forum they are in.

As Bali slowly globalizes and the demands for quick and reliable communication increase, I believe these issues will slowly disappear – if for no other reason than it will mean that the poor communicators will get too far left behind.