Yesterday I mentioned that my family spent three weeks, this summer, teaching in China. While the experience was different in so many ways, there were many things that reminded me of my daily life in America.
Let’s just say there are leadership lessons to be learned all over the globe.
One of the lessons I learned was the lesson of language. It happened on the third day we were in China. Our family was enduring one of the many taxi rides we had the chance to experience.
The driver, who was about my age, decided he wanted to talk to me since I was sitting in the front seat with him. He began with a nice English “Hello.”
It was then that I made my first mistake of the trip. I responded with my best Mandarin, “Ni Hao,” which means hello.
My apparent mastery of the language caused the driver to assume that I am fluent in Chinese, so he went off with about four or five sentences of stuff that you don’t get at Panda Express.
I didn’t understand and didn’t know how to tell him I didn’t understand. I could only shake my head no.
This caused the driver to think that I didn’t hear him, so he said the same thing a second time only a little louder. So I did the only thing I knew to do. I shook my head “no” even harder.
My action cased the driver to shout his soliloquy a third time. How many ways can you say no? A fourth attempt, this time he was yelling.
My wife and four daughters, who were in the back of the taxi, thought this was funny. Cue . . . back seat laughter.
I learned that laughter leads to louder Chinese.
It was crazy for about two minutes. Finally, one of my kids was able to figure out the driver was trying to tell me that he was happy to be my driver.
Who knew? I thought he was telling me I was an idiot.
I exited the taxi thinking about how many times a lack of communication causes leaders and followers to be frustrated with one another.
Sadly, leaders think they can just yell louder and longer and others will understand, when in actuality the problem is not volume. The problem is language.
If you want to be a better communicator in your leadership, learn to speak the same language as those who are in the trenches. You will only achieve this by immersing yourself in their worlds. It is no different from someone trying to learn a foreign language. Taking a class will only get you so far. But immersing yourself in a culture for an extended period of time will make you an expert.
Maybe it is time for your to practice immersion. Parents, learn to speak the language of your kids. Bosses, learn to be fluent at the grass roots level of your company. Leaders, learn to listen to your followers.
The key to each of those is for the leader in the relationship to take the initiative to be bilingual.
Are there communication barriers in your leadership environment? If so, louder won’t help. Language will.
Where have you observed a gap in communication during the past month?
Randy is an author, speaker, executive coach, and the CEO of InteGREAT Leadership. He invests his time encouraging leaders around the world.