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Vol.3, No.1                                                                                                             January 11, 2002



What Language Are You Speaking?


By Lynda Dahlke, Ph.D., Business Psychologist and Independent Consultant


News out of Europe recently described adoption of the euro as a common currency among many nations.  As the European community begins to evolve as more of a union of different states versus a continent of diverse nations, it appears that English is the most common language spoken when business is conducted between individuals from different countries.  As business negotiations take place it is paramount that the intricacies of contracts and strategic plans, etc. be well understood among the individuals involved.  Therefore a shared language becomes pivotal to global business success.


Misunderstood language can be a source of humor (i.e. Jay Leno’s “Headlines” on the Tonight Show, Movies, etc.), as well as a potential disaster when translations miss the mark and an innocent comment becomes a possible international security crisis.


How many languages do you speak?


Most of us studied a foreign language in school and some became proficient in using it in our business or home lives.  By learning to express ourselves in a way different than our native tongue, we also gained insight into another culture and this provided a valuable experience in looking at life through a different lens.  However, we also speak different “languages” everyday in our interactions with others at work and at home.  To be effective you must get your point across to others in terms they understand.  Do you speak to your Cub Scout pack of seven-year-olds in the same manner as the new product development group?  Do you use the same words with the ISO 9000 team as with your bowling team?  You might, at times use similar terms and examples, but for the most part, the astute communicator finds out what language their targeted audience relates to and understands best.  By speaking another “language” you may also see things from another viewpoint. 


It is incumbent upon you to know what the common language is when you are part of a team or consulting with an organization or trying to help a customer solve a problem.  If you aren’t speaking the “right language” your intent may be suspect and their trust in you limited.


As a consultant, I have had the opportunity to observe and communicate with many different organizations.  Although they may share a fair amount of “language”, each one seems to have some uniqueness about it.  Therefore, if I want to be successful in getting my points across to an individual or group, I have to be flexible in my use of language and communication style.  Failure to recognize the prevailing language in a group can be a fatal error for the individual wanting to get their ideas heard.  Effective sales professionals have always known this and most are adept at recognizing the language being spoken and shifting gears when necessary.


There has been much written about gender differences and language, and in fact, many of us have directly experienced this gap.  However, have you noticed a language difference between other groups such as the sales and marketing teams versus the engineering group or financial team?  If you’ve ever tried to communicate effectively with some group and become frustrated because they “don’t get it” or show a lot of unexplained resistance, it may be because you’re not “speaking their language”.  If the senior management team in your organization is “speaking” vision, strategy, and a “can do” attitude, and you present your case using a language of downside realities, micro-detail and a “devil’s advocate” perspective, you will miss your mark and not have the desired impact.  You may even be labeled as not being a “team player”.  This is not to say that you should never question ideas or express concerns, etc.  It is to say that how you express this is important. 


Assess the language being spoken by:


1.)   Listen, Listen, Listen!!


      to the words being used

      to how conflict and/or disagreement is handled

      to how support and agreement are communicated


2.)    Observe


      is this group collaborative or competitive?

      how information is shared (e-mail, detailed documentation,     passing comments in the hall)

      who gets the point across effectively and how


So, take the time to find out what “language” is being spoken when you want to communicate effectively.  Speaking the right language could make the difference between success and disaster, and you could learn a lot by looking through a different lens.     




About the Author


Lynda Dahlke, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist with over 20 years of experience working with individuals and groups from diverse backgrounds and levels of responsibility.  She is able to deliver practical, action oriented assessment and guidance.  Lynda specializes in pre-employment assessment, executive and managerial coaching, conflict management and organizational diagnostics/consulting.


Based in Waukesha, WI, Dr. Lynda Dahlke is available for consultation or coaching by phone, e-mail or in person. She may be reached at (262) 544-9918 (office), by e-mail at ldahlke@psychologyforbusiness.com or:


     Lynda Dahlke, Ph.D. 

     Psychology for Business 

     2717 North Grandview Boulevard, Suite 303

     Waukesha, Wisconsin, 53188


(c) Copyright 2001.  All rights reserved. Lynda Dahlke.  Distribution rights:  The above material is copyrighted, but you may retransmit or distribute it to whomever you wish as long as not a single word is changed, added or deleted, including the contact information. If you would like to reprint part of this newsletter please contact me at newsletter@psychologyforbusiness.com to make arrangements.


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