Why language matters for Psychological safety

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Swedes like me are said to be the best and most fluent speaking English persons in the world, except the native-born English-speaking people of course. That goes definitely for the millennials and generation Z (b. 1995-2012) but definitely not for me and my boomer friends[1]. I write this book in English for two purposes. First, to reach a broader audience as my customers are 90% Swedish but have English as their working language. Second and more important for me is to learn the English language that I have spoken all my adult life but still don’t master to my satisfaction. Therefore, I keep my sister Siw busy editing my book. She is well educated in, and has long professional experience of, the English language. We often disagree as she is not up to date with the latest IT lingo as I am. Our discussions are definitely on the pinnacle of Psychological Safety and beyond. Here is where age comes into play for Psychological Safety as a barrier for us in the boomer generation, raised with American crime series on TV and inner covers with lyrics on the music albums. We are not, generally, as skilled in English as the youngsters, so we rather shut up than look like fools.

Sometimes, but very seldom, I get the opportunity to coach people older than myself, often with an attitude to stay as a laggard in the world of change, as they don’t see the point in change for themselves, having just a few years left until retirement. Those people are the most open and critical people, and had it not been for the language barrier, they probably would have spoken up about the ongoing change. It was definitely not better when they were young, as they claim, but it should have been interesting to hear their opinion with their experience in contrast to the “certified” youngsters.

To help these people speak up you can mix your language with native (in my case Swedish) words and thus create an environment of freedom to speak up – without being skilled in English. An idea is to drop some English words every now and then and ask, “what’s the word for [Swedish word]?” to make people stay alert and perhaps feel skilled if they can fill in the missing word.

This is a part of the book Psychological UNsafety from the trenches you can order or read more about here.

[1] Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y, Gen Z, and Gen A explained: https://www.kasasa.com/exchange/articles/generations/gen-x-gen-y-gen-z