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!

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

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

Disarm the Mine-field of Merging Established Teams


Because you can rarely include employees on strategic decisions like merging teams together, they may feel like resistance is futile, but they resist anyway – and the whole goal of the change you’ve made suffers until they come together as one new, productive group.

Realities are compounded when they’ve lost team members because of this change, or when the individuals on their new ‘team’ are not known to them or will continue to work in a different location or were once viewed as their competition. The natural feelings of betrayal, vulnerability, distrust and guilt result in reactions to very reasonable fears. If you’ve led – or worked on – teams going through this tough transition, you remember how those reactions slowed progress and sabotaged the efforts toward bonding.

You also remember if you’ve ever planned or been force-fed fun that died sadly.  Forcing fun is a lame excuse for facing facts, and everyone in the room sees the elephants you are trying to ignore.  Kudos to the effort to get new colleagues to connect, but ensure the money you put into group bonding counts toward growing your new team.

Spark Trust and Build Bridges beyond their Fears

  • The greatest elephant in the room will be that everyone is focused on their personal survival.  So equating their individual career success to the success of the new team is a constructive way to help them plan their own survival.
  • Bringing people together automatically destroys one elephant that evolves with the announcement of change: ‘they are no more than names on an org chart or voices on conference calls.’  When you get them together, don’t let them self-segregate!
  • Believing that ‘those people want my job’ is an elephant that dehumanizes new team members.  Structure out-of-the-box opportunities to peek at the dreams, challenges, strengths and vulnerabilities that remind us that everyone in the room is a human.
  • “Who do they think they are?”  That attitude represents two destructive elephants that hang around when the original teams were successful: “We could succeed better alone!” and “They will hold us back!”  So ensuring there is an opportunity to respectfully reveal the competence of individuals and to celebrate the track record of past team successes can put holes in those caustic messages.

With a new team can come great celebration, but mostly after the individuals have actually become a new team, exhibited their individual and coordinated excellence, and met their targeted success.  Aligning people, processes and performance is what Pepperbox Solutions does best!  You will need to lead this charge, but it can’t hurt to have good strategists behind you!  Call us!

Managing those Millennials


So much data; so many defeating messages!  Flip your perspective of millennials from impatient, self-centered, social-media zealots to the refreshing positive people they can be in your workplace!  And then engage your best leadership skills to guide that confident, principled passion into great contributors.  Don’t let your negative feelings, fueled by the messaging, make you hesitate to do what you know how to do.

Yes, they grew up thinking they were winners; those are the seeds of leadership!  Yes, they can be obnoxiously fearless when facing new technology; how many times have you prayed to see that trait in employees?  And yes, they want to engage with the team; remember our headaches in the 90’s from teaching competitors to be collaborators?

People, let’s capitalize on their idealism and energy!

Your leaders may not need new skills to make this happen.  But they do need to get to know the individuals of this new generation and help guide them to the success!

Good coaches balance clarifying expectations with soliciting solutions from those they coach.  Typical millennials thrive on this kind of participative learning.

Effective leaders help employees become self-aware enough to manage their stress through the unexpected changes and realistic career disappointments.  They teach their teams to see the probabilities of tomorrow and to prepare for the opportunities or challenges.

Smart managers know true engagement happens only when people – of any age – give their optimal contributions while experiencing optimal satisfaction.  For many millennials, that satisfaction comes when they have an attainable plan customized to their vision.  You can help them create that!

All of us get into a rut after leading the same way for a few years.  They say the US workforce now has more millennials than any other generation.  If your leaders suddenly woke up and realized they can’t lead the majority of their employees from their former comfort zone, their frustrations are natural.  But it also may not be as desperate as it feels.  Let’s talk about the skills you’ve seen in your leaders and how they are applying them.  .  Pepperbox Solutions would love to set up a conversation about the success of you and your millennials.

Ask, Before Telling…3

Feelings count… to employees they count as much as wages & hours…

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Part 3: Excited by the encouragement her friends, Josh and Dennis, had found by testing the leadership concept of asking for input from others before sharing their own ideas, Tanya put down her fork and began her own story of what happened the previous month when she applied the principle in a new way.

 The most amazing discovery for me was in a completely different direction from what you guys experienced. I have an employee who has been disengaged for the last three months, but she has had a couple of years of good performance. When I prepare for a disciplinary conversation, I usually list out the actions I expect the employee to take in order to change their results. This time I decided to take Josh up on his challenge by getting this woman’s input before sharing what I wanted her to do. So when I got to that part of the conversation, I asked her what she thought would be a good plan to get herself back on track. That was the beginning of my multiple discoveries.

Instead of giving me an excuse or even a list of actions, she was silent for a few minutes, and then she asked if we could meet again after she had taken time to think through her answer. If she was willing to take this seriously, then I certainly could give her the time for that.

The next afternoon she presented me with a plan that had actions, timelines and resources – amazing. She wanted to create a mini-mentor structure within the team: pairing tenured high performers with new team members. She then shared that she had felt defeated because last quarters’ budget changes had cut out some training resources. This change caused tenured employees to take escalations that had previously been handled by new people – before the training was shortened. Her plan even noted that she could not actually serve as one of these mentors until she brought her own performance numbers up to the standard she’d set for her little mentor crew!

I would never have put something that aggressive on my list of actions for her to do. If I had not asked for her input, I would not even have known that the budget change had made that kind of a morale impact on the team – or ultimately on our customers. And I realized the escalations she referenced were the cause of the increased call handle-time I’d been researching!

Dennis was hooked now, “Well, what happened? Did you let her build a mentor team? Did the numbers change?”

Josh laughed at his friend’s eagerness, “Yeah, tell us the rest of the story.”

Smiling, Tanya recapped how she handled her employee’s new zeal.

“Well, her solution wasn’t exactly practical with the limited time we can get people off the phones. So after asking her some questions about how the details of her plan would impact our call-center metrics, we decided on a different direction. But we have solved the challenge, and I gave her tons of credit for bringing the issues to light and for helping with the solutions. And, as I drafted and executed the plan of getting the – now improved – training back in the budget, I engaged her by getting her feedback, data and ideas weekly. I could see her morale improve as she felt empowered to make a difference, and that change in morale drove her performance results even higher than they had been before her slump.

“So ‘the rest of the story’ is that Josh did a good thing by throwing down the gauntlet and putting that challenge on our lunch table!”

 Reality: Asking for input can spark willingness, insight and creativity in others. These employee traits can increase results and decrease leadership stress! Failing to ask for input before telling others what you want them to do can crush feelings of empowerment and confidence: we all lose.


  • ALWAYS thank people for their input, even if you don’t agree with it.
  • Never ask for ideas that neither of you have any control over implementing or for input that can open doors that are not appropriate for the workplace or could jeopardize business success.
  • Asking for input often reveals employee thought processes that are helpful for leaders to understand.
  • Before asking for ideas from a group, it is often wise to share how the input will be used.
  • Asking for input in groups can help employees develop leadership and communication skills.
  • Be ready to ask questions that help others evaluate their own ideas instead of critiquing the ideas yourself. Part of their evaluation may include your educating them about business realities they may not know to consider.
  • Leaders are great at seeing the holes in ideas, be sure those are not the first comments you make after someone risks sharing their ideas with you.
  • Even the simple question, “Will you help me?” can make a powerful difference in someone’s response and in your results.

Ask, Before Telling…2

Feelings count… to employees they count as much as wages & hours…

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Part 2: Since he was the one who challenged his friends, Dennis and Tanya, to try the principle of asking for employee input before telling them what to do, Josh was anxious to tell about his experience next.

“My discovery was also around hidden talent, Dennis. But in addition to finding some exciting talent, I also validated that some people did not have the experience that I naively assumed they had. Their input to my requests for ideas revealed severely outdated philosophies; I have some work to do with a few tenured members of my sales team.

I uncovered this by sharing with the team a challenge I’ve witnessed in getting our small business clients to understand a new product we have developed. After I shared the issue, I asked each person individually for ideas on how they would get these clients to understand the value of the product if they had unlimited time and resources. Their creativity was amazing! We combined several of their ideas, and now we have a one-minute video that can be accessed from any client site and helps the buyers visualize their success with the new product. My team has improved their close rates on the product by 20% in just the last week since we started using the video!”

Tanya grinned at how much this simple idea had helped her friends, “Josh, you always take on yourself so much of the responsibility for developing your team. I hope you continue to ask them for ideas so maybe they can learn from each other and lighten some of your load.”

Reality: Asking for input can spark willingness, insight and creativity in others. These employee traits can increase results and decrease leadership stress! Failing to ask for input before telling others what you want them to do can crush feelings of empowerment and confidence: we all lose.

FOLLOW US & don’t miss the next PEPPERBOX blog: Tanya shares an additional business advantage for applying this principle.

Ask, Before Telling

Feelings count… to employees they count as much as wages & hours…

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Post 1 of 3: Old friends – Dennis, Tanya and Josh – are managers for different companies and try to meet monthly for lunch. They have found the lunches to be safe times to discuss and get honest input on leadership challenges they face in their work.

One month, knowing Dennis’ very direct style of leadership, Tanya shared a communication principle she had run across and asked for the opinions of her two friends. The principle was to ask for employee input before telling them what to do or advising them on your solution. As they were finishing their meal, Josh suggested they each try the idea before their next lunch and see if there were discoveries worth sharing.

Dennis was the one that brought up the topic the next time the three were together – probably because he was the most surprised by the result. He supervised a crew that did custom finish-work for building contractors.

“I tested your idea, Tanya, by asking one of my guys if he had any ideas for a complex job around some weird kitchen angles. He did great! I discovered a skill in one of my men that has already saved me time because I can delegate those jobs and trust his decisions without standing over him. In fact, that’s not all I saved using this idea… and I admit that initially I thought trying this idea would be a pain!
About two weeks ago I asked a couple of the guys, who have been on the crew a while, for some ideas on how we could cut back on materials costs. Just by asking, I not only got a couple of good ideas, but I’ve even noticed several guys making conscience decisions that reduce waste on their individual projects. That kind of initiative has just never happened before! The research I’ve done on this month’s materials totals looks like the changes are moving us in the right direction.”

Tanya was thrilled with Dennis’ discoveries, “Remember to share those savings with your crew and let them know how they could benefit from continued effort,” she prompted. She had always thought Dennis would have better results if he could engage his crew to take more ownership in their work.

Reality: Asking for input can spark willingness, insight and creativity in others. These employee traits can increase results and decrease leadership stress! Failing to ask for input before telling others what you want them to do can crush feelings of empowerment and confidence: we all lose.

FOLLOW US & don’t miss the next PEPPERBOX blog: Find out how this principle worked for Josh with his sales team.