I have always had a busy mind. With new ideas, insights or perspectives popping up throughout the day, whether I’m working or not. In most cases they are useless or, perhaps, appear useless at first. Occasionally they really shift my perspective. Like last week…
So, last week I was in a call with India on one of our global roundtables and I heard myself talking about market conditions, customer characteristics etc. etc... At a certain point during that conference-call, I suddenly realized, I was using typical ‘private sector’ wording. This is language I am very familiar with, having worked in commercial businesses most of my working life. When I joined Index Initiative, I had to get used to words like consultation and outreach. I would naturally use words like conversion, in relation to our online consultation, which caused question marks and failed to register in the eyes of some of the people I talked to. (By the way, if you want to participate in our online consultation, please fill out a short questionnaire here).
Hence, words used by people working in the public sector or civil society can be different than those of people working in the private sector; whilst having the very same meaning. This occurrence can cause, more often than wished, a distance or even a divide between different stakeholder groups. Every group has their own vocabulary or memes, potentially creating bias.
As this experience continued to linger in my head, I remembered the second “Raad van Anders (Council of Difference)” at Microsoft. I invented this “Raad van Anders” to get fresh, thorough insights and opinions on wicked organizational questions and issues such as gender equality or being ready for future generations. The people on the council were specialists, experts, opinion makers, influencers etc., and these outcomes were used to transform policies, strategies and even daily practices and a council would get together in many different ways during a few months. Anyway, during this particular one the Dutch government and Microsoft The Netherlands learned from each other’s ways of working and took three gatherings to open ourselves up to the other point of view and practices. Simply because we had to calibrate our words to really understand each other.
The equation of both experiences led to an affirmation that language is a critical asset when building a World Benchmarking Alliance. That is, if we want to create common ground for all allies.
How obvious, I hear you think. Well, I do agree. Partially. As we are usually busy with other things than taking the time to listen to the meaning of words used by the other.
I believe one of the key elements of an alliance is a culture of trust and calibrated, honest and open communication. The global and multi-stakeholder element of the alliance needs to focus on the importance of words. Words are key building blocks in building that culture. And even though words are less important than we think, we need to create more space for hearing one another. To listen, is to understand and acknowledge the differences and how that translates into specific words. Together we need to determine which words serve as anchors for the alliance. So-called memes. Words that even resonate when translated into multiple languages.
This insight definitely has an impact on the way we have to approach our communication- and allies-strategy. Will keep you posted!