I've spent the past 10 years studying languages - Chinese and Spanish at university, Latin and Ancient Greek at school, with a few half-read exercise books in Russian, French and Japanese scattered in between. I chose my degree confident that I could step gracefully into a career in the luxury fashion industry in China, and threw in Spanish for good measure.
So it might come as some surprise therefore when I tell you the only language you REALLY need to learn in business.
And it’s none of the above.
By the time I moved to China, I had spent a total of 1,852 hours studying grammar rules, tones, characters, ancient scripts, politics, literature and history. But I spent a year feeling almost entirely alone and isolated (with the exception of waltzing around a local park with the hotel cleaner and a 60-year-old Ecology professor). The grammar rules might have been circling my mind, but I was too scared to speak, sullen, and for a good 6 months experienced an irrational anger towards a good 20% of the world’s population as a result.
I left China and moved to Spain, in excited anticipation that the golden rays of summer evenings laced between cobbled streets lined with colourful orange trees, and the equally warm personalities of the locals would transform me into a near-native speaker.
Meanwhile, an Italian friend who had shared the same course (and bed, incidentally, due to a situation in Beijing involving a three bedroom flat too beautiful to pass up, a host of reluctant couples and a king-size bed) had successfully attracted a little tribe of people to call her friends in every country we had lived and studied in.
She negotiated outside clubs in Mandarin with bouncers who owed her a favour, she Skyped her Thai boxing instructor in Beijing with her Polish friends in Leeds, and at one point debuted her skiing skills on the slopes of the Sierra Nevada in her underwear with a pair of Spanish twins (whose chiselled features and faintly Moorish round eyes I had only ever seen in Dolce & Gabbana ads).
But her language skills were ‘far from perfect’, she reassured me with a consoling smile that did its best to hide her pity. (I would have to take her word on this one as most of the time she reeled off Spanish so fast I could hardly catch a word).
THE ONLY LANGUAGE YOU NEED TO LEARN
How then, did this 5’2” superwoman of bouncing tight curls and a terrible habit of losing iPhones thrive in every environment she stepped into, despite shakily inhabiting a completely foreign language?
After four years of careful observation, I realised she didn’t step into those environments at all - she bounded.
She bounded into whatever room she entered with a smile on her face, a willingness to get stuck in without expectations, and a relentless positivity that reassured everyone around her that even the most stressful situation could be sorted out - though not without a flurry of impassioned gesticulating for which Italians are famed.
This was all combined with a healthy dose of decision to not take life too seriously.
In other words: she spoke the language of enthusiasm.*
*She also loves avocados.
PUTTING AN AVOCANDO ATTITUDE INTO PRACTICE: The Language of Enthusiasm
After graduation, and almost a year after she had returned to Italy, I was proverbially haunted by her bubbly disposition as I traipsed across the parched plains of Extremadura and 300km into the Camino de Santiago. I had purchased a copy of Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist to distract me from pussing blisters and my conclusion was there in writing:
"Hay en el mundo un lenguaje que todos comprenden: es el lenguaje del entusiasmo, de las cosas hechas con amor y con voluntad, en busca de aquello que se desea o en lo que se cree."
“There is a language in the world that everyone understands: the language of enthusiasm, of things done with love and with volition, in search of something you desire or because of what you believe in.”
So for the next 800km and beyond I forced myself to adopt an ‘Avocando’ attitude - that same enthusiasm that had enabled aforementioned superwoman to overcome her own fear of failure and attract all manner of people as part of a support network - professional and playful - that now sprawls across at least 3 continents.
AVOCANDO IN THE OFFICE
Our much-loved Avocando design is a little reminder that the language of enthusiasm really can transform a situation. Whether you’re working with a Chinese supplier, outsourcing production to Latin America, or courting a professional connection in London, if you approach these situations with an open mind, passion and a smile, great things will happen.
For those of us who fantasise about swanning into an office with the brutish, calm confidence of Harvey Specter or Anna Wintour, we need to realise that as authoritative as those figures might be, in reality, their lack of approachability isolates them.
Admittedly, this persona might work well for Anna Wintour in an infamously haughty industry, but as a small business owner where collaboration is key, you simply can’t smoulder behind a pair of oversized shades.
Would you want to trot up to someone at an event who is pouting moodily in the corner to run some ideas by them and invite them to join a project?
Probably not. No one wants to work with the someone who appears too cool to for school.
Don’t be that person.
Adopt an Avocando attitude. And, ideally, a tee.