How to have a bilingual organization across communication styles

Many business leaders find themselves asking: “Why can’t it be easier? Why is it so hard for us to make decisions together and get some of the simplest things done?”

Whether your company is a professional firm, family-owned business or manufacturer, people with different communication styles can get tied into knots working together. That in turn challenges productivity and everyone’s desire for a harmonious environment.

“I’ve discovered that metaphors are an easier way to explain why people are having challenges working together,” says Ricci M. Victorio, CSP, CPCC, ACC, managing partner at Mosaic Family Business. “The metaphor creates an instant picture. I like to say it’s the difference between the language of the tiger and the swan.”

Smart Business spoke with Victorio about helping individuals in a business form a cohesive team.

Why use the metaphor of tigers and swans?

You may have heard of ‘hunters and gathers’ when describing workplace dynamics. However, people may not want to be known simply as an implementer, and others might say, ‘I’m not a hunter, I love my people. I have passion.’ The tiger and swan metaphor is one where no one feels diminished.

Swans are beautiful, elegant creatures that live in harmonious flocks. They don’t like change, but if challenged, they become fierce. Tigers love the thrill of conquest, and the strategy of tracking their prey. That’s how they measure their self-worth, so there’s bravado from the adrenaline of a challenge.

Often in business teams there is miscommunication between the entrepreneurs who grow the business and those who make the business run. With the metaphor of the tiger and swan, they start to understand each other better. A swan learns that when tigers write emails in all capital letters, for example, they are not criticizing, but naturally talk big and directly. A tiger learns if he or she doesn’t listen to the warnings of a swan, things could fall apart.

What’s the first step to getting teams to work better together?

People with different personalities must learn to communicate in a more collaborative and professional way. It’s hard to work when you feel you’re walking on eggshells or waiting for the next fire drill. If you understand the language being spoken by various personalities, then you can adjust your delivery so you are understood.

To establish trust between the two, there has to be a genuine curiosity in learning about each other. You want to create positive experiences of working together, where everyone is being acknowledged for their collective and individual contributions.

If your team is struggling to understand each other, an objective coach who sees all the nuances of the personalities can help guide them when they step on each other’s toes, to reframe the interaction so everyone understands the intention of the other player’s actions. It takes someone who can see the big picture and isn’t part of the ecosystem to help bridge the gap.

How can business leaders ensure they have the right team dynamics?

Some important dynamics are called for to ensure a team works together best. The five characteristics of a team are:

  • Character. Who are these people? Do they have integrity and do you trust them?
  • Competence. Without skill, it won’t matter how much integrity someone has.
  • Commitment. A team fails or succeeds based on its commitment to one another.
  • Consistency. The team has to have the confidence they can count on each other, day-in and day-out.
  • Cohesion. Even when it’s difficult, the team needs to function at a higher level and know that together it’s better than any individual.

These elements are foundational for a successful team. If team members don’t trust each other enough to have transparent, authentic conversations when facing difficulties, their differences will create a wedge, pushing them farther apart. It’s not the job of any one person to make all the accommodations. Everyone needs to step into the center and take the time to learn the differing languages being spoken within the group. Once this begins to happen, you will begin to enjoy the benefits of a ‘bilingual’ organization.

Ricci M. Victorio, CSP, CPCC, ACC, is managing partner at Mosaic Family Business Center. Reach her at (415) 788-1952 or [email protected].

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