The Power of Language at Work

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Leadership and language go hand in hand. Our language and word choices as we lead our teams through triumphs and defeats, change and uncertainty, have become passive at best and inconsequential at worst. The speed with which we manage and the number of projects being juggled simultaneously seem to demand a carelessness when it comes to speech and communication.

At Fringe, this rush to communicate is one of the biggest obstacles clients face. The words that you choose can and do have a dramatic impact on the engagement of your colleagues and direct reports. Recently, we discussed the impact and difference between “teammates” and “co-collaborators”. In the end, the decision was made that co-collaborators gave both team members an equal footing in the project. The goal was to avoid the inevitable one-sided team project. We all remember this from junior high school, right? You get placed on a team project in class, one person ends up flaking (usually at the 11th hour) and the remaining team member does the “group” project alone.

Co-collaborators may not end up having the desired outcome we hope for but the action of thoughtfully considering your language before communicating with your colleagues is the first step towards better communication. We know that all communication is received through various filters by the receiver. It is highly unlikely that everyone on your team with whom you communicate is filtering information the same way. Taking the time to carefully craft important messages with all receivers in mind is step one to getting everyone on board.

In addition to being thoughtful with your word choices, it is important to consider the power of consistent language. For this, we can look to one of the biggest companies out there.

Apple doesn’t ask you to “try new ways of thinking” or to “contemplate divergently.”
They have used the same simple slogan, Think Different since 1997. Why?
Because it pays to be consistent.

We know what to expect from Apple and your team needs to know what they should expect from you. Think about the largest, most impactful projects you are working on. Are the naming conventions consistent? Everything from the way you organize content to the action steps your team takes should use the same consistent language choices. Doing so allows your team to know what is expected of them and it creates certainty and relatedness – two critical factors for successful collaboration.

Consistent, thoughtful language. If you are doing these things you are almost there! The final point to keep in mind with your chosen wording is that it should be frequent. The brain likes what is familiar, and we can get our teams and colleagues working together faster and more efficiently if they speak the same language. And the best way to integrate into any new language is immersion. I am not suggesting that you walk around repeating buzzwords like a corporate bot, but I am suggesting that your language and the frequency with which you use that language has a direct impact on the ability of those around you to be comfortable and confident in using that language themselves.

Does it take more time to craft communications this way? Yes, and this is one of those situations where that time is directly connected to the value received.

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