Inclusive Meeting Language

I have attended meetings in Germany with German professionals, and one solitary English speaker, and guess what? The meeting was conducted in English.

2003, the meeting room was fully occupied. Plant managers, tech and maintenance leader, HR. As the site leader of the chemical plant in Germany, I was expecting a high-ranking visitor from our headquarters at Dallas, Texas.

It was taken for granted that all of us, 12 Germans and one American, would conduct the session in English.

Of course, this was due to the hierarchy on the one hand, and on the other hand, the site‘s employees found it polite that we did it this way. After all, we all knew this foreign language and were a bit proud of it.

At the beginning of the session, I sensed that this particular achievement on our part might not have been noticed enough.

With turning to our guest, I asked him: „Would it be acceptable to switch to German, if the situation needs that? Just for a few moments or so. I always can translate back.“

My goal was to create a sense of sensitivity around the fact that many of us were speaking outside of our comfort zone.

Short pause in conversation. All eyes on me.

„Bernd, thank you for mentioning that.“

And further to everyone, our guest said: “I very much appreciate your efforts and your ability to have our discussion here in English. I only know a few German words. One of them is DANKE.”

It worked, and in the case of difficult issues to be explained, we were always able to digress briefly into German and then translate back.

And for me, it was an important learning. I have then often used this methodology within my professional career in similar situations.

Later in my executive role in Saudi Arabia, I expected the employees there to communicate in English as a matter of course. What an advantage that I remembered this statement of my American guest from back then and was able to express my appreciation and gratitude proactively.

➡️ The use of inclusive language is a leadership task working with globally composed and intercultural teams. What do you think?

Thank you Jeff O’Dea for the inspiration for this post, based on your recent one here

If you are interested, follow me at LinkedIn, #Prepare4Landing. I’m Bernd Scharbert and my task as a mentor and facilitator for leaders and executives is to ensure that globally composed and intercultural teams have the opportunity to grow to their next performance level.

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