Years ago I was invited to create a workshop called “Mind Your Language”.  It was for a roomful of engineers who worked globally and in multi-nationality teams.  The idea was to alert the Brits to speaking in a more accessible form of English and to open the discussion on what individuals found difficult about cross-cultural communication.

I was delighted.  I was fresh from a Linguistics Masters and over 11 years working internationally around the world as an expatriate.  In a future blog, I’ll tell you how the workshop was received.  But for now let’s focus on the importance of watching your language.

Watch your language

Choose words carefully, be specific, know your listener and what might be ambiguous, what might offend – even when you are not working internationally or across cultures. But that’s not how most of us speak. We’re in a hurry, there’s a deadline or we have another task on our minds and we speak carelessly.

For instance, a phrase like “I haven’t time now” could be either of these:

  • a clear statement of “Catch me later”. Or
  • clearly saying “You’re not important”.

Careless language costs ideas

When the boss says:

  • “You don’t need to know that” or
  • “This is what I’ve decided” or
  • “We haven’t time for your input.”

… it shuts out your team members.

Of course tone of voice and context make a difference to communication, but words do matter. Words create feelings and bring up associations, which are different for each person.  As Judith Glaser says “Words create worlds”*.

According to Neuroscience findings, phrases like these activate the hormone Cortisol in the brain. The team goes into “protect” mode, fearful of speaking up and making a mistake, where it’s safer to just do their job and watch the clock. They won’t be able to offer ideas, even if you want and invite them to.  The innovating, trusting area of the brain will not be accessible to them.

Yet, today every business and every team needs to produce ideas. We need new solutions to deal with the new context of continuous or fast-paced change that we live in.  And the best ideas could come from anywhere, at any time.

We need to build a trusting environment so individuals more easily think creatively and want to share new ideas.

Conversational Intelligence®

C-IQ® teaches us how to effectively build trust so that we CAN activate the innovative creative parts of the brain.

For example, it helps when leader talk down-regulates actions like these:

  • Dictate
  • Judge
  • Criticise
  • Withhold

… and up-regulates behaviours like these:

  • Listen
  • Share
  • Appreciate
  • Invite

Is your team leading a dog’s life?

Have another look at the dogs in the cartoon picture with this article.

Do some members of your team wear a hang-dog expression? Sometimes? Is there room for more trust-building behaviours on your part?

As leaders, we can all benefit from reminding ourselves and our teams to:

  • Innovate
  • Think
  • Be yourself.

*Judith E Glaser is the author of “Conversational Intelligence” and the inventor of C-IQ®.

Alison Haill is Founder and Managing Director of Oxford Professional Consulting. She has over 30 years’ experience in helping clients narrow the gap between performance and potential, so they create great teams, influence others and transform how they lead within the organisation. She’s currently studying Conversational Intelligence® (C-IQ) with Judith Glaser. To discuss your context and find out more, contact Alison Haill at, by phone on 01865 436791 or click here.
More blogs from Alison: Top 10 Tips to Build Trust Faster and Be More Effective When you Work in Multi-Nationality Teams