Change your language

May 26, 2011 - 1 Comment

I love this video. It conveys so simply how our choice of words can radically change how people react to us.

It also shows how difficult it is to make an impact when we’re stuck in a rut of talking a particular way.

The way we use language in the technology sector is a funny old business. At one end of the scale we have acronyms galore, a list as long as my arm that I’m forever trying [and failing] to work my way through. At the other we have company names becoming common parlance verbs. Today there are millions of people around the world who Facebook, Google and Twitter.

The murky in-between is a mixture of techy specifications containing bits and bytes, or else roll-off-the-tongue phrases like broadband, plug-and-play and cloud computing that only a tiny minority of the world’s population truly understand. For many, the technology sector is amongst the worst for language that doesn’t invite people in.

This hasn’t stopped the relentless rise in the use of technology. But whilst the e-comfortable click ahead, those left behind just want to be talked to in a language they understand.

Take a look at this video for a great walk through of good vs bad examples of true meaning. One example cited by the speaker is a company trying to motivate improved performance with the two words, “Operational Excellence”.

After these words were introduced the company measured performance. Only one team delivered; the one with a weekly meeting to discuss “how to do everyday things better”. Everyone knew what that meant, you see.

I should think we’ve all used language at some time or other to inflate the true meaning of things. Let’s face it, “Operational Excellence” at first sounds far more important than “doing everyday things better”. But once first impressions have worn off, what are you left with? If you haven’t got people with you then nothing at all.

Choose your own filter for deciding whether you’re getting your true meaning across. How would you put things if you wanted to include your mum/granddad/daughter/husband in a conversation about technology? Are you really using the shortest, clearest words possible? What’s the common language rather than the language of an exclusive set?

It’s a bolder move to use words this way. As the speaker in the second video says, most people are terrified of taking the risk because when you start to speak plainly you can no longer cloak what you do and don’t know.

Believe it or not, the tax authorities in the United Kingdom have thought a lot about this. When most people complained they didn’t understand tax, the organisation asked employees to become better “Sense Makers” – a nice bit of meaningful language itself.

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  1. You bring up some great points. Less words is sometimes detrimental to meaning. There are moments when I wonder if “Inclusion and Diversity” is too abstract! What are we really going after? “Make people feel valued and part of the team,” or some such. Would love to hear what terms you use interchangeably with I&D.