Overcome the Language Barriers

2018-06-28 07.09.11Too often language is the invisible elephant that stands squarely between you and the person you are trying influence or help.  Not all languages have dictionaries or documentation.  They evolve over common cultures or perspectives and grow to become significant barriers that limit understanding.  Using them without translation can make others feel foolish, disrespected or disregarded… little chance of influencing or helping them after that!

The solution is not necessarily using a common language; confirm understanding in each communication.  If you identify when you are not understood and clearly translate your meaning, everyone wins – and learns!  Here are three barriers commonly witnessed on a daily basis.

Personality Priority

It’s not all in your mind, though sometimes that’s where it starts.  We each have preferred methods of gathering information and making decisions.  When we fail to engage those who use a different thought-process, we are less likely to collaborate effectively.  If you spend all your airtime convincing others of the economic properties, the person willing to fund your venture may lose interest!  Statistics show most of us want one of these answers first: is good for the people involved?… is it dependable, economical, traditional?… will it work? what about its long-range effects?  TIP: When sharing ideas with a large group, someone in your audience probably has one of these as their first priority.  So start by giving the answers: the future possibilities, the logical pros and cons, the concrete details of current realities, and the impact to the values of the people involved.  Having heard their own language, they are now ready to build on that foundation.

Temporal Blindness

We change jobs more and more often as our world speeds forward.  We are dropped into new cultures that have continued to offer similar products and services while transitioning through mergers, acquisitions, downsizing, and entrepreneurial chaos.  Both on-boarding extremes of formal orientation and on-the-job training miss the opportunity to build a common language with new employees by sharing the company history – including painful lessons learned and collaborative survival experiences.  Those times are referenced regularly by those who lived through them, but the references are made through half-phrases and side glances.  New employees are left out of those rich conversations that continue to build confidence, connect empathies and explain stilted behaviors.  TIP: Welcome new people into the time warp quickly so they can more effectively embrace and connect to your culture.

Generation Gap

We cause damage with the divisions we build as generational diversity fills our workplaces.  Using derogatory tones when referring to someone as a millennial does nothing but divide us.  When will we learn?  We grew up in different worlds even if we were in the same space; we have so much to learn from one another if we will just learn to communicate.  TIP: Find a translator!  Collect trusted experts from a variety of generations and create your own living dictionary: resources who will candidly define what those from their generation may mean when you have missed the point.

As you get comfortable using acronyms, medical and technology terminologies, etc., never become deaf to those around you who may have important contributions to offer – if they just understood your meaning!  And if you don’t understand theirs, learn to ask – respectfully.  Need help with communication?  We help people with that every day!

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There are so many things that can stand in the way of people working together.  You can likely describe life-examples of these five common barriers.  You would be wise to consciously avoid, destroy or learn to navigate over them in your career and your organization.


We think of generational challenges driven by language barriers, but there are many more obstacles caused by language.  Too often we seek first to blame before we seek to understand or verify that we are understood.  Our online lives create a culture of catch-phrases and niche concepts that tend to isolate instead of to unify us with the people we touch.  Seek clarity!

Poisoned Wells

We still call this gossip, and it is a universal poison to say something negative about a person and hinder a possible relationship between them and someone else.  It becomes “poisoning the well” when the poisoned person could have been a ‘well of knowledge’ or resource or support for the person who now sees a barrier between them and the help they need.  Poisoning how people perceive others is divisive and weakens teams and careers; there are wiser ways to offer advice or caution.


Ego can be a double-edged sword.  Honestly, ego can provide the energy to risk and lead when logic and planning are unavailable luxuries.  But living on ego can also be the death of careers and relationships.  A smart question to ask yourself: does your extreme confidence serve yourself or your team?  Servant leadership holds some key concepts for creating a safety net for those who are attracted to creating ego barriers.


Silos evolve when leader-focus is prioritized within one’s own team instead of being balanced on how contributions effectively support the organization.  This imbalance can be sparked by many factors, but silos are commonly found between groups where hand-offs of clients or information occur, around teams that require unique skill-sets, and where limited exposure creates a blindness to customer perspectives.  Put away your tug-of-war mentality & sharpen your trapeze skills to balance your consideration of all aspects and needs: stay focused on the common direction, fight spatial blindness by building bridges & making neighbors, and never allow engagement in petty divisiveness.


How long are the new people in your group called “new?”  Until they feel and are treated like contributing members, others will go around them as if they are a literal barrier.  Obviously on-boarding and resource best-practices are critical for lowering this barrier.  Culture-adoption comes more quickly when vision is translated into clear direction & values into behavioral expectations.  Temporal blindness exacerbates the barriers when no one shares critical team history that will help new-comers create effective credibility and camaraderie.

We are currently helping clients conquer these obstacles.  Let’s talk – you don’t have to battle these barriers alone.

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