"I don't like the way they speak English in front of me."
Research is Communication.
I was weaving in and out of the midmorning city traffic in a bajaji, a typical motorized form of three-wheeled, open-air transport, when I most intensely began to understand the importance of language and communication in urban Tanzania. This was in thanks to the bajaji driver, who I had struck up a conversation with during our ride across Dar es Salaam, from Sinza to Msasani.
An Unscripted Experience in Listening.
"Habari yako? (How are you?) Nzuri. (Good.)"
A Path of Empathy.
Up until this bajaji ride, I had been so focused on gathering input from people at my primary field site that I hadn't yet reached beyond this more narrow group. But because our paths crossed, and I was open to hearing his story, my perspective was greatly widened. As a result, I began to actively seek the voices of those outside of my immediate circles, learn more about how the university related and responded to the city, and formulate a more holistic research design.
In all, some of my biggest insights in research have come from unscripted moments in the field, and time spent with unexpected stakeholders. These moments have highlighted the extraordinary importance of interpersonal communication as a way of demonstrating respect for stakeholders through a willingness to listen.
No Shortcuts to Interpersonal Communication.
I continue to thank this driver for a deeper understanding of how my ability to derive insights into attitudes, behaviors, and underlying processes, is a result of the time we, as researchers, spend observing and sharing in the lives of others.