Mixed Cultures

On the first night of my trip to Edinburgh, Scotland this past November I found myself in a crowded pub on the Royal Mile. A Scottish duo was entertaining everyone with their singing and the place was animated. As there were no open tables, a couple motioned to me and my husband to come sit with them. They were visiting from France.

My French and their English were equally poor, but the camaraderie rose above our language barrier as we enjoyed the singers, the vibe of the pub, and a good pint together. It wasn’t long before a Scottish trio, an Irish couple, and some English folks all joined us, and we set about getting to know each other. Different types of people, cultures, and languages all joined for a moment in common purpose.

In our work lives isn’t it the same? We each bring such unique perspectives and we are put together a bit randomly in the hopes that we will connect and be productive. Our uniqueness can sometimes make communication hard – while we may be using the same words, our intent and perspectives may not align and the effort to connect becomes much like people from different countries trying to find a way around a language barrier.

We all have experienced how a misunderstanding of the intent of the person with whom we were interacting can lead to challenges and conflict. Communication breakdowns are so often the root of difficulties in our work environment. It is especially complicated when this occurs between the business and the customer.

As I look back on 2023, the significance of common purpose and intentional efforts to communicate in the same language across internal teams and with the customer has been one of my top areas of focus. I believe these two concepts are so important to champion because if your organization is clear in its purpose, it can become a rallying point for the employees to stand behind and it provides a solid foundation for developing teams that understand the value of great communications.

According to the magazine Inc: “Research clearly indicates that purpose-driven companies outperform their counterparts in the areas where it most counts: productivity, retention, growth, and the ability to pivot into different business models.1

Sharing common purpose can provide the necessary footing to work around language barriers within an organization and also between the business and the customer because when we are all after the same outcome, it’s easier to get people to want to find ways to share. It becomes easier to ask questions, to be curious about the other person’s point of view, to have empathy, and to foster an atmosphere where the various teams become enthusiastic about collaborating to solve problems or create innovative solutions.

So how to execute these two vital elements?

First, top leadership needs to define the purpose, message it clearly across the employee and customer domain, and most critically, leadership must live it. To live the purpose, it must be true to who your company is and what your company delivers. That sounds so simple, but how often have you seen eloquent words describing the purpose that don’t get to the authentic soul of the company? Find that soul.

Creating an environment where your employees can sustainably communicate productively could be a workshop all on its own, so while I won’t go deep here, I’ll share a few thoughts:

  • Create trust. Employees must believe that all team members are acting in the best interests of both the company and the customer and that each of their roles has an important part to play in driving success for all involved. If department X doesn’t trust department Z, neither group is going to want to share information with the other, especially if it’s bad news. This holds true for your customers too. As a leader you must create an ecosystem of trust.
  • What does “great communication” mean? Equally important, what does your customer believe it means to communicate well? Each employee and each customer may answer that differently. You need to ask! Uncover those expectations and work back from there.
  • Don’t assume. So often we receive an email, a text, or have live conversations where we conclude the meaning using our own point of view. How many times have you read an email that just simply irked you! But perhaps the sender or speaker didn’t have the intent you assumed. If something doesn’t sound right get clarity before you jump to final conclusions.

Embrace the company’s purpose and lead your teams and your customers down a path of shared insights, data, updates, ideas, and honest accountability through meaningful and consistent communication channels.

The Highlands

As a group of us drove out to the Scottish Highlands on the last day of the trip, I was struck by the haunting beauty of the landscape. It was raw, majestic, foreboding, and immense. What captivated me the most was the long history of conflict that ran across the land. The various clans that walked that space in Medieval times, made it their home, and disputed amongst each other so intently seemed to run through the fog and the whip of the day’s chilly wind.

What if, instead of territorial boundaries, they found a common purpose and intentionally sought ways in which to communicate more productively to help each other make their daily lives better?

Leading teams to break successfully through the “us” versus “them” barrier is imperative in order for organizations to be productive and to keep focus on what matters – delivering the highest quality of products and services that our customers expect.

Defining the common purpose for which you exist as a business and living by that purpose must be the first step. Gaining understanding of communication expectations among your colleagues, business partners, and customers is the important step two.

Let’s not allow language to be the barrier to our business success.

1 The Power of Putting Purpose Before Profit by Vince Proffitt – Inc.

Tag/s:Business Transformation, Empathy, Personal Development,