John Bennett/ April 16, 2020/ Development, Leadership

On a recent business trip to Germany and Austria, I was reminded of how difficult it can be to communicate when you don’t speak the same language. Even the otherwise simple tasks of ordering a meal, asking for directions, and shopping can be complicated. This experience prompted me to think about how difficult it can be to communicate in business settings.

What makes this so challenging? 

In business, we do speak different “languages”. TRY THIS … remember the first week or first month that you worked in a new organization. Did you know what all of the terms and acronyms meant? Did you know “how things are done around here”? You may have felt like you had been transplanted to another planet. Now, add to this the complexity of how individuals think and communicate. I often see challenges when one function of an organization is trying to communicate with another — e.g., accounting and marketing, human resources and manufacturing production, or information services and sales.

Even within the same organization, and in the same country, these differences occur and misunderstandings can develop.

So, let’s work on becoming “multi-lingual”. Developing your business language acumen can help you understand others, relate to others, see opportunities and challenges from different perspectives, and enhance your impact.

Learn to speak the different languages of business.

In business, there are 5 languages that clearly exist:

  • The Language of Data
    This involves using data to make evidence-based decisions; analyzing data to find trends to inform decision-making. Communication is often with an objective view supported by data. Phrases to illustrate this include: “What does the data tell us?”“The facts are…”; and, “We can’t make that decision until we have more facts.”
  • The Language of Power
    In their classic work, French and Raven identified five forms of power: legitimate, rewards, coercive, referent, and expert. Phrases to illustrate this include: “I know that … would prefer that we ….”“Based on my experience/knowledge, I think we should….”; and, “If you do …, I will give you ….”.
  • The Language of Relationship
    This involves focusing on individuals, groups and teams by seeking to understand them, care for them, develop their capabilities, and use their strengths. Phrases to illustrate this include: “What’s important to you?”“How can we work together?”; and, “I feel… about you.”.
  • The Language of Strategy
    Communication and decision-making have broad and long-term views of challenges and opportunities. Phrases to illustrate this include: “Let’s consider the longer-term implications of the proposed action.”“I’ve noticed over time….”; and, “What other perspectives could we consult?”.
  • The Language of Action
    Communicating with an action-orientation may involve looking for opportunities to fix problems, do something or ask others about the actions they will or have taken. Phrases to illustrate this include: “I/we did….”“What’s next?”“Let’s get this done.”

I’d like to know which language(s) do you rely on? Which are you most competent in? Which language(s) do the people you interact with use? How can you enhance your effectiveness by developing your abilities to communicate using a wider range of languages? Please share in the comments below.

Photo by Franck V. on Unsplash


© 2020, John L. Bennett. All Rights Reserved.

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  1. Another excellent post John. This makes one think about what language one “shows up” in most often and the insight we need to become more “multilingual”. I would select the language of action as my default mode.

  2. Tom, thank you for your comment. And, it reminds me know which part of who I am (thinking, feeling and doing) is “in charge” at any moment. This level of self-awareness allows me to consider other perspectives. For example, if I am in “action/doing mode”, then I might benefit from consider my feelings and my thoughts. In addition, it can help me to consider where others I’m interacting with might be focused, then adjust to meet them in their mode of processing experiences, making decisions, presenting information, etc.

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