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Direct statements

Why using a shared language leads to better working relationships

We all have things we wish we could come right out and say, but often don’t for our own reasons. We may want to preserve a relationship, not hurt someone’s feelings, or reveal what we truly think. We beat around the bush hoping that they might pick up what we’re trying to say. Usually, this strategy does not work. 

The problem is that we want to communicate something but we have fear or uncertainty in our head or heart. We feel a sense of pause and we don’t say what we wish we could. So we either say nothing at all, aka silence, or say a bunch of stuff to lighten the blow.

Adopting a shared language

One of the tools that can help us grow as leaders and with our teams is adopting a shared language. What’s cool about working with a small group is that you can set rules for that specific set of people. While you can’t control everything in your life, organization, or larger structure, you can control your direct circle of influence. An easy way to do that is to develop a shared language that your group understands and can use when needed. 

No one is going to assign you the task to “develop a shared language.” This is something that you must take ownership of and make happen the next time you gather. It’s kind of like a more serious version of an inside joke. Your group gets what you’re saying, but if you weren’t a part of that group, you might be a little confused. Of course, as your group grows, it’s important to share the shared language, just like a nice friend will explain the inside joke to you.

Shared language solutions

Brene Brown has a phrase in Dare to Lead that goes like this: “clear is kind, unclear is unkind.” This is kind of a mantra or anthem to say that unclarity is not going to be tolerated. By beating around the bush, you may think you are being kind, when in reality, your lack of clarity is damaging the group. Better to be clear about what you think than bury your true thoughts deep down inside you.

Henry Cloud in Boundaries for Leaders notes that a Fortune 500 business uses the phrase “just give me the 10%.” This is a way of saying, “can you please skip the BS?” In a situation where someone is obviously hedging around an issue, you can give them the freedom to be clear and kind by asking them to give you the 10%, or what is really on their mind.

The David Allen Company used to say “Silence means we are OK with what’s going on.” Silence can be a terrible thing to deal with in leadership and in relationships. But who said silence has to be miserable? Declaring that everyone is going to agree on what silence means helps everyone. This comes with an implicit expectation that people WILL speak up if they have an issue. Otherwise, the silence communicates approval and support. The trick is to practice this and to ask people to speak up, otherwise, their silence communities they are OK with what’s happening.

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