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Are You Speaking the Same Language in Your Office?

The other day I was talking with a client who was looking for a partner and using one of the online dating services. She had requested someone who 'liked traditional roles,' and was finding all sorts of surprises when she talked with the gentlemen with whom she had been matched.

It seems 'traditional roles' meant to one man that the man works outside the home, and the woman is the homemaker. To another man, it meant both have paying jobs, but the woman does the cooking, cleaning and childcare, and the man does the household repairs and lawn work. To yet another man, it meant the woman must be monogamous, while the man can be polygamous.

Our assumptions about language can get us into a lot of trouble in communication, and nowhere is this more common than in the workplace.
Today's office typically includes people from different cultures, and business may be conducted with people from other cultures and countries as well. As the US becomes more diversified, we can no longer count on having the same language or customs within an office.

Some examples? In some cultures, the contract is binding and stands as it is when completed. In another, it is the beginning of a long series of negotiations.

In one culture, a handshake means a deal. In another, a contract is needed.

In some cultures, a price is fixed and non-negotiable. In many others, bartering is more common, and a price mentioned is just a suggestion to be argued around.

In some offices, a deadline is set in stone. In another, it's always bendable.

Even within the US, there are a large number of 'cultures.' People in the south called northerners 'Yankees,' and claim they are brusque, and cold.

Northerners may talk about the inefficiency in the south, or the long drawn-out conversations which don't 'stick to business.'

Even within locations there are differences. San Antonio, Texas, where I live, is over 50% Hispanic. Up the road just an hour is a town that was originally a German settlement, and then another hour north, is Austin, the state capital, where the demographics are yet again quite different.

During my years as a fundraiser, writing grants, I discovered many differences as I dealt with city government, county, state and federal. The rules were different within each, in subtle ways I had to learn as I went along.

Are you looking for a common language in your office? One way to bring this about is to establish an EQ culture.

Emotional Intelligence is a field that pertains to how we understand and manage our emotions, and whether you like it or not, emotions are a large part of our daily dealings in the business world. We are just now beginning to acknowledge that business is about relationships. In order to have effective relationships, you have to have a common language.

Emotional Intelligence involves competencies which we all need to get along, relate, conduct business, communicate, lead, and accomplish team goals.

Such competencies as Resilience (how well you bounce back after failures and rejections), Flexibility (being able to deal with change and diversity), and Intentionality (saying what you mean and meaning what you say) are badly needed in today's workplace. We need names for these competencies and qualities, so we can all be reading off the same page.

What does 'work ethic' mean in your office? What does 'a deal's a deal' mean? What does 'this is the policy mean - ? What does 'business attire' mean? What does 'on time' mean?Assuredly it means something different to each person who uses the phrases or hears them, and this is the beginning of serious communication problems between genders, between age groups, among cultures, and between any two individuals.

Bringing a common language to your office can make it more efficient, more productive, and more change-proficient. Capisci? Comprende? Haben Sie das verstanden? C - est compr - hensible?

In 'Beyond Race and Gender,' author R. Roosevelt Thomas defines managing diversity as 'a comprehensive managerial process for developing an environment that works for all employees.'

The way you develop this environment, working with a group of disparate individuals, is to create your own unique culture, building consensus, community and language.

There are tremendous rewards in hiring and bringing together a diverse group of employees, but only if you can get them working together well. Without a common language, the stress can be counter-productive. Consider an EQ culture program for your organization. Emotional Intelligence is being embraced worldwide because its appeal is universal. We all have emotions, after all.

About the Author
Susan Dunn, MA Psychology, Emotional Intelligence Coach, I help people become better communicators and develop their emotional intelligence through coaching, Internet courses and ebooks. Susan is the author of "Nonverbal Communication."

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