In the summer of 1992, I stood on a ferryboat with a few friends in the middle of the Bosphorus Strait, the body of water that separates the city of Istanbul, Turkey, into two continents.

We had spent the day in Asia but were headed back to the European side, where we were staying. After being in Turkey for several weeks, we could speak only a few Turkish words and phrases. We enjoyed getting to know Turkish people, though; while sightseeing, we would start conversations with whoever we could find who could speak English.

On this particular day, a mother and her two children seemed curious to talk to us. Unfortunately, they couldn’t speak English and our meager knowledge of Turkish didn’t allow for any meaningful conversation. After a few starts and stops, we realized that the family could speak French.

I studied French for a few years in high school and a few semesters in college, so once we discovered that we all knew French, we began to connect in earnest.

But first we had to discover our common language.

If you are a leader who works for a global corporation or travels frequently, you know the frustration of trying to communicate cross-culturally without a shared language. Both of my brothers travel overseas frequently for business, and they often rely on the help of translators to conduct their business.

Yet even those of us who work primarily with other English speakers know the frustration of trying to communicate with others and somehow failing to connect.

The reason: even though we may share a mother tongue with others, we may not be speaking the same language.

As a leader, it is important to take the time to know your audience so that you can communicate meaningfully with them. When you know people well, you can choose to relate to them in ways that they will understand and appreciate.

Choose the right words. Learn your followers’ preferred vocabulary; understand the acronyms or abbreviations they use and try to incorporate them into your speech patterns.

If you are presenting new information to people, be sure to define words they may not know. Using unfamiliar vocabulary can create barriers to understanding and create distance between people.

Choose the right medium. My young nieces would rather receive a text message than any other communication. It’s the medium that makes them feel comfortable, so I contact them by text. When I do that, I’m speaking their language. If your followers have a preference about how to communicate, use it!

Choose to connect with others by talking about common interests. When we communicate about shared interests, we naturally use shared vocabulary. This builds our connections with others and paves the way for communication about other topics.

Join the conversation!

How do you find a common language with others?

What do you think creates the biggest barrier in communicating with others within your own context and culture?

This was originally posted at Mountain State University LeaderTalk and is reposted with permission.