Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Common Vocabulary

In leadership development, I have often used non-verbal exercises with groups to solicit insights about how we relate to one another. For one exercise, I would ask the group to stand in a circle and lock arms. Then I would ask each person to pick a place in the room that he or she wanted to go to and to move the group to that point. Of course, this involved a lot of pulling and pushing. The smaller members of the group were pulled in different directions by competing larger members. Usually, the pulling and tugging resulted in the circle being broken and one section of the group pulling away from the others. In debriefing, I often asked, “How would this have been different if you could have talked with each other?” After discussion, someone would comment, “Well, we could have negotiated, set priorities, and taken the group to everyone’s spot eventually.”

Conversation can help to surface and deal with individual needs and priorities. Of course, this assumes that those involved in the conversation have a common language or vocabulary to conduct this conversation. As I have worked with the Peoplemap Communication System, a simple instrument to help people identify their personality type, I have discovered that one of the key benefits of using this instrument with a group of people is that it provides them with a common vocabulary to talk about how they interact with one another.

In discovering whether he or she is a leader, people, task, or free spirit type, a person is given both the permission and the terms to talk about personal needs, strengths, and potential Achilles Heels and how these impact the group of which they are a part. Team members can discuss their relationships with one another in nonthreatening ways. The result is a better understanding of each other’s contributions and needs.

If we hope to communicate effectively with one another, we have to agree on a common language. This is true if we are talking theology, politics, economics, or relationships. The challenge is to find those resources that help us to find common ground or, at least, a common language.

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