Following up on yesterday’s post, I don’t know anything about Justin Bieber or Nintendo DS or Selena Gomez or Sonny with a Chance. I know they exist, but only barely, and only because I have a nine-year-old daughter. She and her friends, however, are thrilled when I ask a question about one of these things, and they are happy to share their opinions with me. That leads to other conversations about (hopefully) more important things, because now I’m cool. I’ve got credibility. I don’t have the full vocabulary or syntax, but I speak in their accent.
I don’t know all the rules of football, but I love the game. I can talk facts and news with the most passionate expert, but I’m not completely sure what an illegal crackback block is or the penalty for it. Doesn’t matter; I’ve got the accent down pat. There’s not a Thanksgiving Day when I’m not allowed a good seat by the TV.
I was a marketing manager for my company’s drives and controls products, but I certainly couldn’t design a circuit board or program the code to make something run or troubleshoot a malfunction. My job was not to design these products, but to bring them to market and grow our business through them. Even so, to be really effective, I had to be the fulcrum which kept the market and our products in balance, which meant being able to communicate smoothly with engineering. I learned the names of the parts and their functions. I learned the basics of the manufacturing process. I learned what happened in a teardown analysis and what those things meant. I learned when design changes went into effect and what those would mean for the product.
I wasn’t pretending to be a technical expert, and I certainly wouldn’t have fooled anyone if I had tried. Those things I learned were all important for my job, but even more so, they allowed me to speak in the accent of the project engineers. Speaking in the local accent showed them I cared enough to build a bridge, and that went a long way. I don’t remember a single time when one of these engineers didn’t gladly answer my questions. Even better, we formed a team.
Speaking in the local accent increases a person’s effectiveness tremendously. It takes some effort, but it’s worth it. The formula is simple. Listen carefully. Learn from what you hear. Show it. That’s all an accent is.