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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Unsung Heroes of Our Organizations

20180507_130218-02Companies recognize their C-Suite, VP, Director, Manager and even Supervisor titles with enthusiasm, and… compensation structures aligned to those tributes.  But the unsung heroes of many organizations are the individual contributors that have chosen not to climb a ladder that leans against the people-leader titles.  Instead, many of these critical employees have accumulated vast amounts of understanding, experience, expertise and instinct about how to encourage, influence, execute and measure success in the organization or market where they have put down roots.  People at all levels of the business siphon data, ideas, confirmations and learning from these ‘go-to’ professionals everyday – and yet they often remain below sight-level and are rarely rewarded or recognized for their career of company stewardship.

Thank Them:

Today, find a couple of people that fit this general description and tell them what you’ve seen them do that makes a difference to the business, to the productivity of people around them or to you.  If you haven’t observed closely enough to sincerely describe the details, then find their boss or someone who has, and do some research.  If no one in your company is close enough to observe the specifics of their contributions, that’s a shame and possibly a danger.

Develop Them:

We often neglect to offer foundational learning opportunities to this segment of our professional population.  Providing development in these areas can pay off substantially in their performance: Self-Awareness, Influence, Learning Agility and Effective Communication.  These professionals seem to especially appreciate mentoring relationships and personalized learning customized to their unique and immediate needs.

Know Them:

It may not benefit you to blindly promote your individual contributors to a job that eats up all their time on managing people instead of on producing the results they love to produce.  Far too many individual contributors abandon the companies where they felt most effective within months of being promoted to people-leaders.  Know what motivates your best players; understand what they need, so you can re-recruit them when they get discouraged.  If they feel a people-leader position is their next step, a wise effort would be to let them live in those shoes in a ‘temporary’ capacity for several months to confirm their aptitude for it.

So, sing the praises of these people whose resumes are filled with a kaleidoscope of projects, positions, and partnerships that demonstrate their productivity-based accomplishments and reflect their systemic perspectives of how one silo impacts another inside their organization.  And, yes, they often do consider it ‘their’ organization; they feel a bit of ownership because they know they make a difference.  We can help with effective ways to show you value these unsung heroes.  If you lose them, the betrayal they feel will rarely allow them to return.

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The Power of “Why?”


Too often leaders feel pressure to behave like they have all the answers; we know we don’t; we even know we shouldn’t act that way.  Giving all the answers creates lazy followers.  Effective team players want to contribute, and inviting them to engage in answers is foundational to their development and satisfaction.  Sharing and asking for the reasoning behind ideas, tasks, responses, and behaviors can unlock powerful information, lower barriers, and create connections between people.  Try exploring the why! Make it a habit!

Welcome the “Why?”

At least don’t resist it!  Ever wanted to cover your ears after a few hours of that question from a child?  We can feel that same way when co-workers ask us why we are doing or proposing something.  Often our insecurity makes us feel like they are questioning our solution; they may be; maybe they should be; get over it and answer; be willing to discover better solutions.  When the irritation of their query becomes a frustration, figure out their motivation and address it: often, it uncovers a need for formal learning, a key gap in understanding, or a distrust in some aspect of the process or people involved.

A Key to Learning

Almost every adult learns better if they understand the whys of the information they are asked to learn: why you are sharing it, why it works, why they should use it, why other people don’t use it, etc.  If we want people to remember, they need the why!  Give it as often as is reasonable.

5 Whys

This activity may have started as a statistical driver, but it has evolved for many of us into a self-reflection technique that can reveal as clearly as a mirror.  Ask yourself why you do a specific action or feel a specific way [1]; explore the answer to that first question by asking why that is the answer [2]; after each subsequent answer, continue to ask yourself why that is the answer until you’ve asked “why?” 5 times: five levels of inquiry about your motivations or feelings or reasons.  Of course its power is in your honesty, whether you like the answers or not.

Work like Grapes

The habit, invitation, ability and safety of asking “Why?” in groups augments their productivity.  It can be described like the difference between working like marbles or grapes: if you shake up or mash a bag of marbles, you get scratches and a few chips and the marbles are no longer as useful as they were individually; if you shake or mash a bag of grapes, you may get mush that doesn’t distinguish the individual grapes, but that mush can be converted into some great products!  Asking “Why?” is one way to work like grapes: teams that ask for reasons and motives may feel messy, but healthy inquiry identifies issues early, opens creative thinking and produces results.  Explore the power!

The Inspirational “Why?”

Simon Sinek’s concept of The Golden Circle is powerful for anyone who influences others.  If you aren’t familiar with it, you should be… it’s been over half a decade since he shared it.  Make the 20 minutes it takes to get acquainted.

Communication is both tricky and complex.  Explore principles that can help your team establish better communication in any direction or in specific situations; let us help you build the solution that is right for you.  Why?  Because we are passionate about helping people work together to create their shared success!

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The Magic of Transferable Skills


Transferable skills – those you carry with you and enhance from job to job – look the same as any skill when seen in a list….  But employers and applicants can unleash the power of these skills by seeking and sharing clear evidence of how they have been used effectively.

  • Instead of looking for specific titles or job-responsibilities on applicant resumes, wise managers look for core skills that can be reapplied to amazingly transform a new-hire into a high performing employee.
  • Experienced interviewers are never spellbound by those lists of skills; they use the magic of behavioral questioning to peek behind the curtain.
  • Learning effort is mysteriously enhanced when development plans include skills that are used in the employee’s current work and will also be key in their next, targeted job.
  • Savvy leaders engage employees in developing skills that strengthen current performance and can be transformed into career stepping stones.
  • Job seekers charm recruiters by offering clear descriptions of how transferable skills were used to convert basic tasks & expectations into results & revenue.
  • Training that conjures the vision of career application looks nothing like skill-building required to meet job expectations.


Transferable Skill: Performance Coaching
Enhanced Description: Consistently use applicable coaching methods to ensure employees perform skills accurately and overcome challenges that deter skill-effectiveness needed to meet highest performance expectations.  [Expand on real-life examples and description of methods.]

Transferable Skill: Project Management
Enhanced Description: Lead projects using standard tracking and project practices that ensure critical escalations and completions while inspiring effective communication and buy-in between stakeholders, hand-off partners and end-users.  [Expand on professional terminology and tools and how you have overcome project-obstacles by gaining buy-in.]

Transferable Skill: Work well with difficult people
Enhanced Description: Increased my results by building the trust and confidence of people who are not my direct reports and of those who were, at first, hesitant to accept my responsibility or competence.  [Expand on tactics used to change doubt to support.]

Transferable Skill: Customer Service
Enhanced Description:
Respectfully manage customer emotion and transition consistently to up-selling that meets identified customer needs while balancing requested marketing priorities.  [Expand with an example of when all three needs were met.]

Transferable Skill: Proof Reading
Enhanced Description:
Edit copy that is consistently approved as clear and understandable, with correct grammar, spelling and punctuation, and audience-relevant.  [Expand on your methods.]

Transform transferable skills into your own career magic.  If you need help finding engaging and creative ways to include skill-building in development plans, we can help!

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Who Wrote These Vile Goals, Anyway?


Everyone wants to ask this question at least a few times during the year… the first time is usually toward the end of the first quarter.  Why?  Because it isn’t so easy to get them right!  Short story is you must start with an understanding of where your whole organization wants to go and how it plans get there.  Long story is there are so very many ways that goal completion can get off-track and become ineffective busy-work or another lost file-folder.

Here are a few, simple – but often neglected – ways to avoid getting lost on the way to effectively creating and completing company goals:

  • Insure your goals are documented as measured results and not as lists of actions; completing actions rarely guarantees producing targeted results.
  • Don’t overload your list; in the whirlwind of doing business, most groups can only manage 4-6 significant objectives throughout the year.
  • Prioritize regular celebrations of goal progress and evaluation – just do it; pulling over to find where you are on the map will never be as exciting as fighting the day-to-day traffic of to-do lists.
  • Create expectations and approval processes for adjusting objectives as your business realities and priorities change; every year people waste time and expect bonuses for completing obsolete goals.
  • Collaborate to identify all aspects of the organization that drive strategic goals and clarify individual team impacts; silos bury businesses!
  • Break goals into actions with assigned due-dates and owners; this is the translation into employee-performance language.
  • Require employees to share their methods for tracking completed actions and any additional efforts that impact goals; without credible tracking, you forget the details by year’s-end and, much worse, you can’t document or reward the extraordinary employee-efforts that drove your success.

If you need fresh eyes on your goal-setting practices, we have those eyes – and lots of experience finding the gaps in how performance management links to your strategic planning.  We can help you close those gaps and meet those critical objectives!

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Customers Are People Too


After hyper exposure to consumer impacts, our customers are often viewed less as people and more as avatars or data points.  As customers ourselves, we have each felt, occasionally, that the employee ‘helping’ us had repeated the same interactions until their scripting and movements became rote, and we were invisible to them.  As managers, we look at graphs representing customer purchases and practices to the point that we no longer connect stats to human decisions.  These are natural responses, but they can kill your business results if you and your team do not resist assimilation into this danger zone.

You must continue to interact with this critical segment of your business as the individuals they are.  Here are some things we forget about people and some ideas for increasing competitive advantage by helping these people feel their significance.

Communication Happens… or not

Fight or flight responses are normal in conversations when people are not respected.  And, often, while the person does not physically move, we feel them leave by raising what seems to be a mental wall.  Sharpening awareness of this wall helps us realize when customers feel disrespected and this attentiveness gives us opportunity to lower that wall and welcome them back to the dialog.

The instinct to respond to this sensitivity and use smart recovery tactics can be learned.  Here are a few common ways to lower that wall and confirm you value the customer’s communication; it’s even smarter to use these habitually to reduce the frequency of that wall going up at all!

  • Always ensure they feel decisions are in their control
  • Avoid assumptions of their expertise by sharing rationale and confirming their interest or understanding
  • Ask permission to share or show
  • Ask for the customer’s help or perspective
  • Demonstrate listening: validate emotion they show and summarize facts they share
  • Sincerely praise their past positive decisions and empathize with questionable ones

Change Happens

Businesses adjust services and products… constantly!  People feel vulnerable when suddenly informed of changes or coerced into making decisions on options they didn’t plan for or don’t understand.  Expect customer resistance when employees respond to that vulnerability with pressure-scripting.

Your customer-savvy employees will deliver these disappointments with ways that help meet the individual’s needs and process through their resistance:

  • Validation of the customer’s understandable reaction to the unexpected reality
  • Description of the customer’s positive future might look like with this change
  • Explanation of the disadvantages for continuing with the former option
  • Suggested customer-friendly plans to get to their new, positive future

Conflict Happens

Conflict between customers and your employees can seem as minor as differing perspectives, but responses to those differences can inspire or injure spending decisions.  Using the same strategy to navigate every disagreement can be tragic.  Employees must quickly decide the direction that will best meet the needs of both their specific customer and the business.  When there is no option that will create the perfect union, we all need the judgment to know when to risk, to sacrifice or to reconcile.

Thomas Kilmann’s styles may help your employees identify what appropriate options look like when they face conflict in customer interactions: avoid, accommodate, compromise, collaborate, compete.

Making customers feel valued has always fueled competitive advantage.  Supporting employees who use the tips listed above often requires coordination from marketing, operations, training and sales strategists, so don’t leave it to your customer-facing employees to do this on their own.  Check us out…. Aligning the necessary and realistic support from these internal roles that have competing agendas is what we do best!!

Find more of what you need by opening our BOX of BLOGS from 2017