Entraining Part 3: Language

In the early days of TV, there was a popular afternoon program called Queen for a Day. It took ordinary American housewives, often in unfortunate circumstances, and made them feel special — with attention, gifts, and tiaras. Very touching. Of course, once they went home, these women faced the same realities they had the day before. Nothing really changed.

It’s the same with one-day training programs. They may seem useful while you’re attending, but once you’re back at work, the effect quickly dissipates in the face of every-day routine.

When it comes to skill development and behavior change, most of us know one-day trainings don’t work. So how do you encourage new skills to develop and new behaviors to stick?

In earlier posts, I discussed the move from training into entraining — a deliberate process of skill development, attitude change, and cultural evolution. Entraining starts with Executive Approbation and Quick Wins. This post is about the third requisite of effective entraining — Language.

Think of the way popular culture is carried forward by simple, but pervasive changes in popular language — 24/7 for open all the time, text for a short message, partner for a love relationship, tivo for time shifting a TV program, google for searching the web, or just the web itself. These are more than just words; they are signifiers of new ways of thinking and behaving. The way we speak reflects the way we think, the way we feel, and the way we believe. For real cultural change to take root, you need to develop a language that supports the change you’re looking for.

When ThinkX introduces productive thinking into organizations, we’re careful about the language we use. We ask “What’s the itch?” when exploring what’s not working. We talk about problem questions rather than problem statements. We refer to target futures rather than objectives. We strive for third third answers rather than the first ones that come to mind. And we power up solutions rather than simply developing them. Our aim is to give people a vocabulary for thinking differently.

When I visit our clients and hear people saying things like, “We were discussing our itch the other day,” or “We’re making progress, but we haven’t cracked the third third yet,” or “How can we power this idea up?”, I know something is happening: A new mindset is beginning to install itself into the culture of the organization. Entraining is starting to happen.

If you want to change behaviour you need to offer people a language that allows them to describe that behaviour and embed it, not just in manuals and company memos, but in their collective consciousness.

Next blog, the fourth entraining requirement: Practice.

Posted by Tim Hurson

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