Handbook for Effective Collaboration – Creating Shared Expectations – IDENTIFYING A COMMON LANGUAGE

Identify a Common Language

Organizations will develop language that facilitates their collective engagement of their work.  This language may evolve over time and is often a manifestation of the deeper culture of the organization.  The language used may also be representative of the way in which this group has operationalized key values in the context of the work.


When unique agencies, organizations, teams, or communities choose to collaborate around shared issues, each brings their language to the relationship.  In some case we understand each other’s language as we have experienced it in the past.  In other cases we find ourselves uncertain as to why certain language has been adopted and what it really means.  And finally we may find the language used by others to be inappropriate or insensitive to those we serve or represent.


Language is the way in which we process experience and create shared understanding of our experience.  The language we choose will create the meaning of the experience for us and will influence the action we take individually and collectively.


When individual, unique, and autonomous groups come together to initiate a collaborative initiative, it is essential that they explore their individual language and identify a shared language that represents and honors their collective commitment to the work.  This not about judging individual language, but choosing to suspend judgment and understanding the meaning behind the words.  This process is characterized by curiosity and respect, the goal being to establish a shared language in pursuit of your mutual purpose.


  • What language is part of the culture in which you engage?
  • Where have you experience lack of agreement on language to be problematic?
  • How did you address these differences?
  • What have you found to be useful when faced with this challenge?



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