Language and your organisation’s culture.

Have you ever heard yourself or someone using phrases like “It always happens”, “Everyone thinks that” or “Nothing is working”? There is a special term for these gems; “Absolutist words”.

These words suggest a majority, and when used in an unqualified manner to gain consensus-thinking, can have a detrimental and even toxic impact on organisational culture.

Let’s put this into a context to help you understand how it can snowball…

Sam (non-gender specific) makes a statement during a meeting “No-one found that process very helpful. I think we need to do something different… (suggests an alternative).

Depending on Sam’s level of ‘power’ within the organisation and their influence over the group, this can go one of two ways…

1. Everyone agrees and they seek an alternative solution.
2. Someone uses a sense-making question “I’m interested to know more, what specifically wasn’t helpful about the process”.

When we let these absolutist comments wash-over us, we can often sleep-walk into group-think. Even with the best of intent, our language can create a culture of absolutes and binary thinking. Worse-still if the intent behind the use of these words is not pure and they are used to manipulate thinking, then this can result in a very toxic culture.

Creating organisational culture is like training for an event, take care of the small things and the rest will come together. If you are mindful of the small-things such as the language used within your organisation, the overall culture can be lifted.

My challenge to you this week is to pay attention to how you language things. Also have an ear for the language used around you. Use a sense-making approach to gain further information.

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MA :)

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