If you've ever seen ER doctors and nurses in action, you probably heard them exchange a few words that sounded foreign to you.
Although your nonmedical background might be partially to blame, medical workers also share a common language that allows them to communicate faster and more precisely. And when one mix-up could pose life-threatening consequences, concise communication is crucial.
But you don't have to work in life-or-death scenarios to reap the benefits of more accurate communication. The business world is a high-stakes environment, and if you aren't embracing--or even acknowledging--your company's common language, you could be diminishing trust, hampering productivity, and missing out on a few distinct advantages.
Say More by Saying Less
The No. 1 advantage of a common language is speed. Increasing speed means completing tasks faster, but it also minimizes time spent on unnecessary tasks. You'll naturally reduce downtime if you don't have to fully explain a concept to get your point across.
The jargon and expressions within a common language do something called "chunking," or compartmentalizing information. You communicate using terms or phrases that denote more complex concepts or collections of information, and you save precious time in the process.
For example, when I remind my team to log their hours in Clevertime, I'm asking them to track the hours they work and the tasks and projects they complete. I'm also assuming they have access to our system and know how to use it. In one chunked phrase, I've explained what they need to do, how they need to do it, and why. This wouldn't be possible without a universally understood language.
Without a clearly defined language, you leave room for interpretation--and consequently, misinterpretation--among co-workers. Simple misunderstandings can create discord or lead employees to complete tasks incorrectly. When everyone can communicate with complete clarity, it will minimize confusion, ease tension and uncertainty, strengthen ties, and promote a more unified, supportive team.
Some common language develops naturally through shared experiences. That's why you have inside jokes with your best friends and not your casual acquaintances. You share a mutual--and often indescribable--understanding that outsiders don't have. According to a 2005 study, these mutual experiences create trust, which promotes deeper levels of interaction and expression.
Instill Trust in Your Leaders
In business, trust is currency. And when communication between management and staff gets muddled, it can stall productivity. Consider this in a military context. The military has an obvious organizational language that hinges on trust. If cadets didn't have faith in an officer's orders, the entire structure would crumble.
By adhering to a collectively understood language, you're enhancing comprehension, which fuels trust and efficiency. In fact, in a study by the University of Basel, participants judged statements written in concrete language as "more probably true" than those written in abstract language. When you eliminate ambiguity, employees can proceed confidently with a task rather than spend time trying to decipher the underlying meaning.
How to Encourage Your Team to Use the Shared Language
If you have to provide long-winded explanations to outsiders to communicate what you do, or if you catch new hires making cheat sheets of acronyms and "strange" terms, you already have a common language.
Because my team is remote, we have to work hard to bring newcomers into the fold and build a community that keeps everyone engaged. Here are a few steps we took to promote a shared language:
- Explain common language during onboarding. You likely already use chunking in your organization, but exercising it intentionally will give everyone the necessary background. For example, you might throw around chunked phrases such as "flexible hours" that your team understands, but new staff members could perceive this to mean many things. They might think they can make their own schedules, work varying hours each week, or divide hours between the office and home. Provide detailed explanations so employees don't have to assume.
- Learn from failure. Failure is your opportunity to learn and adapt. What happened last quarter? Where did miscommunication occur? Pinpoint the sources of misinterpretation or any distinctions you need to address, and locate areas where unique jargon could replace lengthy emails or explanations.
- Encourage consistent communication. I had to build consistent communication into my organization by repeating our unique terms regularly. We use tools such as Slack and Blue Jeans for video conferencing, and that helps us reinforce our common language. Find a communication method that works well for your team so everyone feels comfortable reaching out to others.
- Anticipate a language learning curve. Each person comes into your organization with his or her own set of ideas and beliefs. When you don't account for these differences, you won't be able to recognize or mitigate potential communication blockades. Newcomers need a transitional stage to learn the lingo. Be honest, direct, and patient during this process.
You wouldn't want miscommunication disrupting the ER, so why would you want it to impede your organization? Don't wait for communication blunders to break down trust before you make the shift to a more efficient and effective communication system. Recognize and embrace your internal language, and nothing will get lost in translation.