One half of A+F Creative public relations agency, Frankie Reddin, discusses the importance of language in teams, from leading by example to creating safe spaces for employees – and why sometimes it’s simpler than we think.
So, Frankie, why did you want to talk about the use of language in teams?
A lot has changed since I first entered the industry about 15 years ago. Our vocabulary has grown and our awareness has expanded, so there is absolutely no excuse for ignorance or the use of language that is exclusionary, as well as plenty of opportunity to use language to create better working environments.
"good use of language is something every team and workplace should be striving to achieve"
What I mean when I say exclusionary could include language often excused as ‘banter’; or it could be something less obvious like the blurred lines of authority between yourself and senior members of a team, where language can become passive aggressive, confusing, or everyone’s favourite – gaslighting. Of course, there is always room for mistakes and nuance can often be a skill to master all on its own, but good use of language is something every team and workplace should be striving to achieve to make the working environment as inclusive as possible.
"Those that have the decision-making power should be creating an environment and setting examples in their everyday actions and speech"
Examples of this are being put on the spot in a team setting, versus asking to contribute; aggressive or accusatory language, versus assertive or inquisitive language; or being supportive and open to someone who is confiding in you about something personal. It all sounds so simple, but you’d be shocked at how often they are forgotten and can be crucial at times.
Should we be talking about language in hospitality in the same way as we would in an office environment?
Yes of course. To be honest, I’ve never understood why we make a distinction between the two. Both are environments in which people have to come together and work together. Both places have their own stresses and pressures that teams have to overcome.
Office environments by nature have more time, space, and money to implement strategies and processes, but if a restaurant or bar doesn’t have their own in place, then I would consider that a major red flag.
Who in a business should or can be responsible for implementing these kinds of changes and how would you go about doing that when you can also be working with people whose first language isn’t English?
The easiest answer would be to say that it should come from the top down. Those that have the decision-making power should be creating an environment and setting examples in their everyday actions and speech that reflect the kind of team they want to have. Appoint someone in your team to deal with HR issues.
"Create safe spaces for change and anonymous channels to communicate sensitive issues"
Sometimes we forget the basics: treat those how you wish to be treated. I relocated to Lisbon, Portugal in 2020 and my Portuguese is not at all where I want it to be. I am so grateful for those that make an effort to annunciate their words and speak a little slower. If you’re in a new country and your language skills are not native, how would you want someone to talk to you? Would you want them to be a little more generous with their time to communicate with you so that you have the confidence? I know we don’t always have the time in a fast-paced environment, but we do have time to check in at some point either before, or after a service to make sure everyone on the team feels supported and understood.
How can managers begin to address this subject with their teams?
Ask questions, listen and absorb. Come up with proactive solutions. Have accountability. Mirror the behaviour of your team. Create safe spaces for change and anonymous channels to communicate sensitive issues. Re-think or sense-check structures and appreciate boundaries. Our industry is emotional and sensory and that should come through in everything we apply ourselves within that realm.
Don’t make decisions in a vacuum. I once worked with a client who had a great idea for a drinks menu with fabulous cocktails that used African ingredients. When it came to naming the drinks, names like ‘Lion King’ made it to the final print… if the client had brought that to a team, they would have realised that the use of that name was extremely offensive and tokenistic to a huge amount of people.
You don’t have to be doing anything particularly ground-breaking. It can be as simple as making time, asking questions, listening to answers, and implementing structures that benefit your team to allow free-flowing communication.