Love means never having to say you’re sorry. Or so the 1970s film Love Story, starring Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neil, famously claimed. I never agreed with that sentiment then – and I still do not today.
Valentine’s Day on Sunday got me thinking about how important what you actually say is. For us Yanks over here, no matter how long we have lived in Britain, we often still miss out on some of the nuances of language and custom.
Sometimes we are convinced you Brits do it on purpose. I default to my hyper direct American self most of the time; I work in the pressure-cooker environment of start-ups and high-growth small firms and I simply can’t afford to suffer misunderstandings.
When I started working in my first job in the UK in mid 1998, my manager got upset with me one day for doing something wrong. He came over to me in the afternoon and apologised. “I over-reacted,” he said. I remember staring at him, thinking: “Is it better or worse for me to admit now that I hadn’t even realised he was upset – and that I also hadn’t realised I had done something wrong?” As they say, we were separated by a common language.
ARGUMENT IN WAITING
Ariadne Capital, my firm, is a highly diverse company. There are more than 12 nationalities in the team, and people whose background is product management, technology, marketing and finance. We are therefore an argument waiting to happen.
So, years ago, we started building the culture of the firm to ensure that we wouldn’t get bogged down in the differences which could separate us.
We have regular offsite strategy sessions where an outside facilitator leads the day, and have sat many personality tests in order to better understand each other.
The best one I’ve found is the Myers Briggs test which goes a long way to unpack who a person is. This reveals that I am what the test call an INTJ – an Introverted Intuitive Thinking Judging, a slightly convoluted sentence but one which says it all.
INTJs are decisive, definite, perfectionists, self-improvers and free from constraints of authority, convention or sentiment. INTJs would say “there is a war of ideas” instead of “we need a charm offensive to convince you”.
The culture of a firm determines its success. What is the clockspeed of the firm? Is its DNA sales, technology or finance?
Diversity – if you get it right, that is – is a tremendous asset. If you get it wrong, you will feel profoundly misunderstood and your organisation will never feel like a team.
Julie Meyer is chief executive of Ariadne Capital, founder of Entrepreneur Country and a Dragon on the BBC’s Online Dragon’s Den.