What to Do When You Don’t Speak Their Language

I am a lot of things (and I’ve been called a lot of things):


  • executive coach
  • linguist
  • mother
  • teacher
  • “Jersey Italian”
  • wife
  • professor
  • friend
  • mentor
  • chef (at least, in my own mind)
  • business owner


and more.


Two additional labels I often use semi-facetiously to refer to myself are “Recovering Academic” and “Accidental Entrepreneur.”


This last combo is particularly relevant because the truth is that 15 years ago, finishing my PhD in linguistics and education, my aspirations were to be tenured university faculty. Business wasn’t a consideration, and “executive coaching…?” Never heard of it.


But as the saying goes, “life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans,” and upon realizing that the tenure track was not for me, in conjunction with a couple of serendipitous opportunities to do some consulting projects, lo and behold, I was a “consultant,” and in business for myself.


This was more than a little challenging because after a lifetime in education, in the corporate world I felt like a stranger in a strange land. The biggest challenge was that I had to completely relearn – make that UN-learn – all the conventions of academic writing and speaking that I’d spent more than a decade of my life perfecting, only to be told that while it was clear that I was “smart,” the bottom line was that it was too technical, and not relatable or compelling to the audience in my new professional universe.


In this week’s Speaking to Influence podcast episode, my guest Joseph Person, CFO of Wolf Home Products, understands that challenge as well as anyone.



After a decade in the Navy – specifically Naval intelligence – as you can probably imagine, his vocabulary was a veritable “alphabet soup” of acronyms, and commanding a military ops team required a style quite different from, say, providing updates to a corporate board of directors.


Nevertheless, Joe also shared how his experience in the military actually helped prepare him for his present career as CFO, such as being able to make difficult – and even unpopular – decisions, initiating challenging conversations, and using diplomacy when addressing senior members of the organization.


He also addressed the importance of integrity, empathy and all-around mindfulness in leading an organization, and the importance of being able to “tell the story of the numbers” for overall career success.


Listen to the conversation here or watch it on YouTube here.


But whether you’re securely ensconced in your career path or jump from opportunity to opportunity, one thing is consistent: you must be able to find and use your voice for its optimal impact.


And speaking of using your voice for impact, in case you missed my LinkedIn Live conversation with former professional opera singer and current leadership coach Allison Shapira last Friday, which was full of do-now vocal warm-ups and other exercises to ensure your voice always sounds its absolute best, here’s the link to the replay.