That is completely outstanding, wonderful and awesome.
Do the utterances of your colleagues radiate a grey pessimistic gloom that makes you want to shake them? Or, do some of your overseas team members chuck out so much insincere whooping enthusiasm, that you feel as though you may be presiding over a 5 year-old’s birthday party with jelly and ice cream?
Before we leap to judgement about the passive or active language of our fellow executives and how angry this makes us feel, let’s take a breath and put this into context.
If your country had a history of keeping people down via serfdom, feudal oversight and soviet communism’s secret police – If a little war, starvation and religious persecution were thrown in for good measure, what discourse would be heard in your market square!
Optimism – Before we totally condemn the US for their crass and trivial sounding, “Everything is awesome.” Let us pay tribute to the language that facilitated the actions of 5% of the population (USA) to produce 23% of the turn over OF THE WORLD. We may criticise a lack of depth but you cannot argue with the result.
Pessimism – Conversely, from my 5 years in Central Europe, working with a generation that followed the Soviet regime, I came to understand the cynical, dark and cautious language of the region in a new way. This different perspective freed both them and me from the energy draining depression that many expats complained about, (when they thought no locals were listening.)
History – When you have control and agency ripped from your arms by aristocratic overlords, then Communist apperachnics, and finally, Western corporate bosses, your language will morph into something pragmatic and functional. The Czech, “We tried that last time and it did not work” or, “There is a problem” seem to signify a reluctance or unwillingness to cooperate.
This is to misunderstand them.
When we dig deeper, we uncover a more profound truth. View this class of communication as an enquiry about your intentions. Then, relax a little, and, respect the input, regarding it as relevant and sharp. We are really hearing, “Can we trust you?” “Are you for real?” “Will you change your mind next week and so render this urgent request for action, pointless?”
The Slavic slaves will be servants no longer. Their words symbolise the overthrowing of oppression. Depth, connection and respect are required.
Meanwhile, in the middle…
Geographically and energetically, the UK and much of Continental Western Europe fits somewhere in the middle. Our modest phrases give us away too. In response to an enquiry into our mental and physical wellbeing, the Brit may say, “Mustn’t grumble” “It could always be worse” or the anodyne and meaningless, “Fiiiiine”.
We see ourselves as free, democratic action takers, steering our ship on our own terms and yet, this passive language is manifestly pessimistic, fatalistic and, to an outsider’s ear, almost tragic.
The core cultural value that drives this avoidance of hubris and enthusiasm, is modesty – Cultural modesty. I have written a lot on this subject. The history of the British people, pre Empire, was similar to that of Russia. The surfs of the UK were a miserable, Baldrick like lot, (though he was much more optimistic!)
Here, we are signalling the tall poppy syndrome, though it is God who will smite us down for standing up and standing out, not a secret policeman in the middle of the night.
The Brit must avoid displays of ostentation and be ready for the next disaster to arrive at any time.
I spend a little time in Southern Germany these days and notice a related style. On entering a restaurant with pleasing décor, positive staff service and quality food and drink, the first comment by a local may well be a critical or negative one. Again, a self-flagellating form of avoidance – Dodging the wrath of God.
Britain’s new Emperor (We will see if he is wearing clothes, shortly), has spoken of the need for optimism by Brits after enduring the 1000 day water torture that is Brexit.
***I feel the average Brit will roll their eyes at this, fearing a whooping American-like, forced enthusiasm with an implied command to display compulsory happiness***
We have just come out of a decade of austerity – Flogging will continue until morale improves.
Now, we are being instructed to drive the UK’s economic car over a Sovereign and “self-determining” cliff with a smile on our face. – See? I am doing it myself!!!
The context of US language is fascinating. Disparate exiled European groups landed on the East coast and headed out West to stake a land claim and work unbelievably hard, to try to build a cabin, plant, tend, harvest and preserve crops, and gather enough fuel for winter. 62% failed. I guess the ones that made it were using more positive and action based language than the ones that froze or returned. “Just do it” “Make it happen” “Outstanding” “I won”.
Language divides us.
The language of the “other” can be irritating.
We can mitigate our bitterness and animosity when listening to the message of our overseas counterpart by taking a peak at the fascinating history that helped establish their idioms, punch lines and social fillers that we hear today. And, it is by respecting the past and their past, that we can ensure a tolerant and healthier approach to the “other”, and, enjoy their language and energy today.
Now, wouldn’t that be awesome, problem-free and totally fine!