Years ago when I was teaching a leadership seminar for a large multinational, the president of the European division came to speak to this group of 40 managers who came from about ten countries.
His introduction included the fact that he spoke seven languages fluently. After a greeting and a short introduction, he asked me to role play with him. I’m a bit of a ham so I jumped up and said, “You bet!” He asked me, “Do you speak a language other than English?” I said, “Ein wenig deutsches” which means, “a little German.”
He made a request in German, to which I replied, “Ich spreche nur deutsches wenig,” (I only speak a little German.) He then suggested that when we build this picket fence we ought to use English. And he asked me to hand him a pretend picket. I did and he took it, he positioned it, and he pounded the nails in the top and the bottom of the board. He motioned, and I handed him the next board, and so on. Then at the top of a hammer swing, he paused. And then with a mighty, downward swing, he hit his thumb. He grimaced, he held his painful thumb. He carried on until
he had everyone’s attention.
And then he asked, “In what language do I cuss?”
Someone immediately called out, “Your native tongue!”
He said, “You’re absolutely right. Lebanese. I almost never speak Lebanese. I conduct business in English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, and Dutch. But when things get tough, I cuss in my native tongue.”
Then he paused. And he looked at the group and said, “We have a collective native tongue in our division. When things are going well, we speak employee involvement, participated management.
But when we suffer some red ink, when things get stressful, we resort to our native tongue, which is high control.”
So I ask you. When conversations get tough, when they get crucial, can you see your native tongue? Can you see your style under stress? Can you see your personal impact on the conversation?
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