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5 Techniques to Choose Better Language for Innovation and Collaboration

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1.) Learn to Focus on the DOs, and let the DONTs take care of themselves

You go into a team innovation meeting, and spend the first 30 minutes analysing what is wrong with the current state.

Has this happened in your team? Does this create the right environment to innovate in? Observe the mood, energy, body language of such meetings…

Woman with Hat

Image by JB Photo via Flickr

Image by JB Photo via Flickr

Innovation is about what is possible, about inspiration, about a positive mindset, and the language we use directly impacts our ability to contribute. Gripe sessions get in the way. Positivity engages.

Broadening our horizons to focus on the possible rather than on what constrains us is difficult enough without focusing on what is wrong with the current state, and it requires a disciplined use of affirmative, additive, positivie language. What we focus on grows, and if we focus on all that is wrong with the current state it is much more difficult to shift to thinking about what is possible.

Susan Mazza at Random Acts Of Leadership recently had an (as usual) inspiring post about self-destructive behaviors of people trying to protect their jobs in this economic downturn, and she suggested 5 things one should STOP doing, as well as 10 behaviors to START doing… I absolutely love her post, AND I feel the language she uses has the potential to be even more powerful by primarily focusing on what to START doing, and allowing STOPS to take care of themselves.


2.) Learn to Reframe your Language

In fact I think that reframing our language has tremendous potential, let’s take an airline example:

Would you rather go into a meeting where the agenda is to discuss “Lost Baggage Customer Complaints”, or would you feel more energized to discuss “Achieving Optimal Customer Arrival Experience”? A successful outcome of creating an optimal customer arrival experince would almost certainly address anything that would need to be done to eliminate lost baggage.

Develop the skill to stop and deliberately review your language, emails, agendas. Ask yourself: How can I reframe this to shift the focus on the positive, the strenghts of our organization, colleagues, resources? Will my language engage people? Will it inspire positivity rather than focus on something negative?


3.) Innovation and Collaboration – Venting Optional

In “Six Thinking Hats” approach there is a view that “venting” is a catharsis necessary and useful to move forward: I disagree. Rather I agree with Peter Drucker‘s philosophy on the role of leadership as cultivating one’s strenghts in a way that makes ones weaknesses irrelevant. As in the airline example, issues that need to be addressed or fixed will still allow discussion, disagreements and a certain amount of “venting”, but it should not be allowed to have central focus, and will almost certainly be seen as a negative once everyone is already focusing on how to move forward.

4.) Our Language Reflects Our Emotions, And Our Emotions Reflect Our Language

Our reality is shaped and co-constructed by our perceptions, emotions and our language. Recognizing that positive language yields positive emotions can be a great contributor and enabler in the innovation process. Therefore, learn how to harness the power of positivity, in order to translate it into language we use constructively when dealing with each other.

Robyn at pursuingpassions.com writes on the Practice of Positivity:

Positive emotions increase our thought-action repertoire creating a broadening effect that opens us up to generativity, to creativity and to each other.

5.) Develop and  cultivate a “Yeah, and…” perspective, for yourself and your team

Gary Bertwhistle in his post over at Innovation Tools perfectly illustrates how language is important to promote and cultivate good ideas:

While working in New Zealand recently, I met the CEO of a large manufacturing company. Although he agreed with my philosophies around leading innovation, he was one of those “yeah but” guys.

As I presented my keynote, he would very politely ask questions which always began with “Yeah, but…” After he’d done it a few times, I shared with the audience an intriguing part of leadership that starts with language. I challenged the audience (and indirectly this CEO) to answer the question – are you a “yeah but” guy or a “yeah and” guy?

You see, if whenever you are reviewing a new idea, and the first thought that comes into your mind is “Yeah but…”, you’re basically putting a full stop straight on the end of the idea.

Do you have examples of where language played a part in setting the right tone for a meeting? Where reframing the language of the  agenda resulted in a more energized and productive discussion?