An interesting exchange occurred during yesterday's Coaching Veterans webinar, in which one participant agreed with my use of the term "integrating" rather than a more frequently used term, "assimilating." The context of the discussion was the process individuals go through when transitioning from military service to civilian employment, based on a model I developed a few years ago called the Military Transition Framework.
The point made was that "assimilate" has negative connotations for some, suggesting a need to shed one's uniqueness and blend in with the dominant culture (in this case, civilian organizational culture). In contrast, the word "integrate" seemed to honor the individual just as he or she presently is, while honoring what he or she may be on the road to becoming (e.g., a civilian employee).
Another member of the class saw no distinction between the two words, which led to a brief exchange about words and meaning. It lasted 2 minutes at most, but led me to wonder how others view it. I believe that words do matter, and can open up or shut down dialogue in a heartbeat. How many times have you seen a conversation come to a screeching halt due to a poor word choice that offended or confused the listener?
Military service members bring a set of words and meanings to the civilian workplace, and encounter a new set of civilian words and meanings unfamiliar to military culture. Sometimes the words are the same but the meaning is different, sometimes the meaning is the same but the words used to express it are different. It is a learning curve for all of us, whichever world we're from. The trick is to maintain a spirit of curiosity through the learning process, and resist the urge to react and ascribe negative intent.
So, in that spirit of curiosity, I ask: what meaning do the words "assimilate" and "integrate" have for you?