You would never see a sign that says “Come in, they’re OPEN!” That statement just doesn’t make sense, we all know it should say “Come in, we’re OPEN!” Changing one word on that sign seems to change everything.
It is amazing how much you can learn about an organization’s culture by simply listening to the words people use. I once had a colleague who worked in another department, a rather dysfunctional department, but we worked for the same institution. When she would speak to others about the work of our institution she would refer to it as “they”… “they” offer this service, “they” provide this resource, “they” are a good value for your money… It always bothered me when she would speak like this. I wanted to stop her and say, “you mean we, we offer this service, we provide this resource and we are a good value for your money” because we are a part of this institution.
My colleague seemed happy at work but the fact that she used the word “they” told me over and over again that she did not truly feel like she was a part of something bigger than herself. She was working in an environment that fostered top down decisions with bottom up engagement and this constantly put her on the outside looking in. She didn’t feel valued and didn’t feel like she truly had a voice in what “we” were doing.
When you hear people using the word we, even when their department is not directly responsible you know that they feel connected to a larger picture. You also know that they are empowered to take ownership of that larger picture. Using the term we is a reflection of a healthy culture full of empowered people.
Listen carefully for the words people use, the words will tell you far more than a brochure or website about the people and the overall health of the culture you are doing business with!