Light bulb moment: Stephen Tommis

The chief executive of Montessori St Nicholas, which works to support the Montessori movement, on how communication should never be taken for granted

Stephen Tommis
Stephen Tommis

Between 2008 and 2014, I helped to set up the Hong Kong Academy for Gifted Education. I built an organisation of 50 staff and 45,000 students where everyone was Chinese apart from me.

Meetings were held in English, but I soon realised that although many times I thought I'd understood what was being said, staff were occasionally going away and doing things in a different way to what I thought we'd agreed.

My experiences in China have influenced my existing role in many ways. Communication should never be taken for granted, and realising that different stakeholders have different perspectives is a lesson from China that needs honing all the time.

Overall, good communication is about putting yourself in someone else's shoes. When we communicate, we often assume that because we have a common language the starting point you have is the same as that of the people we are speaking to.

However, what you soon realise is that, for effective communication, you need to meet people halfway and understand where they are coming from. Going to China reinforced that point enormously.

It is good to be back working in the UK charity sector because there is no regulation of charity work in China - no Chinese equivalent of the Charity Commission - so practices vary widely in terms of their integrity.

Working in China has helped me to appreciate parts of the UK charity sector that I might otherwise have taken for granted.

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