ON THE JOB by Nancy Clark

If a workplace has a positive language, employees tend to be productive, retention rates are high and goals are understood and aligned with corporate objectives.

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Like the air surrounding us language fills the workplace
From SCAN's Print Edition

What language do you speak in the workplace?
By language, I am not referring to whether your workplace speaks English, French, etc.
The word language is defined by Merriam-Webster as “words, their pronunciation, and the methods of combining them used and understood by a community…systematic means of communicating ideas or feelings by the use of conventionalized signs, sounds, gestures, or marks having understood meanings.”
Language is one of the most powerful tools used in the everyday workforce. The language spoken at the water cooler, in email, during meetings, over lunch, etc., is indicative of the health, morale and productivity of the workplace. Language can literally save or destroy a company. Language is one of the most overlooked tools we have to work with in the workplace. If a workplace has a positive language, employees tend to be productive, retention rates are high and goals are understood and aligned with corporate objectives. The company is profitable. If a workplace has a negative language, employees tend to waste time worrying or complaining, absenteeism rates are high, retention is low, goals seem unrealistic and therefore employees lack the motivation to achieve them. The bottom line is negatively impacted and the company is struggling for survival.
Companies such as Nortel and Dell that have been dealing with massive layoffs, restructuring, off-shore labour outsourcing, etc., have some serious issues with the language used in the workplace. Once employees sense and hear fear from their leaders, everyone is affected. This fear is evidenced through their words and body language that ring with negativity.

So what language does your company speak? Think about the conversations you have had today at work. Did you speak with anticipation and excitement about the company getting that next order or finishing their next release on time? Did you get an email from your manager thanking you for something you accomplished? Did you joke and laugh with co-workers and share the latest antic?

Read the past few emails in your in-box. Are they written with a positive tone? Think of the last team meeting you attended. Did you hear positive messages from your manager? Did the whole team participate in the discussion?
Or are you one of the employees whose jokes usually fall on the dark side? Do you regularly discuss how your company is in trouble and you are keeping your eyes open to get out? Do you believe your company will be successful? Do you know which customers your company has and the latest deal that closed?

Of course it is not reality to walk around all day and see a smile on everyone’s face and meet twice a day by the water cooler to hold hands and sing “Kumbaya”. Everyone will experience some level of stress in the workplace. But take a moment to hear and read the language used.

You probably made a few New Year’s resolutions. We all do that and by now you have probably already fallen off the bandwagon on a couple of them. But January 1st is not the only day of the year that you can make a resolution. Ask yourself “Do I want my company to be successful?” If you truthfully answer “yes” then you can certainly start by examining the language you use in the workplace and changing it if necessary. Language is a habit just like anything else we do regularly. It will take practice to change, and we all stumble and fall along the way (just like we do with our New Year’s resolution!).

You may be surrounded by co-workers who look for the next slip up and then can’t wait to share it with everyone else. It will be awkward at first not to participate in the mudslinging. Your friends may even ask what has happened to you. It’s up to you to decide if you want to be part of the problem or part of the solution. Only you can decide for yourself and only you are responsible for the language you choose to use.

Reread your next email before you hit the “send” button and ensure you use a positive tone where possible. Speak up at the next team meeting and ask how sales are doing, which customers are you after, who is the competition, what edge do you have over them, etc. Stop by the water cooler and talk about something positive. Take a moment to visit a colleague and commend her for an accomplishment. It’s the New Year and as good a time as any to learn a new language.

Nancy Clark, president and CEO of Enavance Consulting Inc., is an HR development professional who has been through every mill from the explosive growth of JDS Uniphase in the late '90s to a government agency in reorg mode, with stops at Marconi, Iogen and other hot spots in between. She can be reached at nancy_clark@primus.ca

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