For living in a world obsessed with communication, we don’t seem to be paying much attention to language.
Think about the language of marketing: First, we speak impersonally. We talk about industries, markets, verticals, and accounts. Those referents aren’t people. They’re nouns — and very impersonal ones. They describe objects.
Second, we use verbs of belligerence and aggression:
We have to penetrate that market. We have to bomb those prospects with information. We have to target these accounts.
Thank goodness we’re not referring to people. If we were, Homeland Security would have us in jail for that kind of talk. Now think about body language. Our body language is expected to be equally impersonal. There’s even a corporeal lexicon for it: “Keep your chin up.” “Keep a stiff upper lip.” “You’re giving me the hairy eyeball.”
Proscriptions are even more extreme in the world of business, in which we’re taught — often mandated — to hide expressions of certain emotions. Anger, disapproval, disdain, despair, and anxiety are considered improper. They’re interpreted as taking things too seriously and personally. They can be a source of liability should someone take exception.
With notable, regional exceptions, the battlefields of the modern world are economic. Conquests are markets won in battle. Behind the scenes, we use adjectives like aggressive and competitive when discussing corporate behavior. We use nouns like strategy, tactics, and deployment to discuss corporate activity. We use verbs like maneuver, invade, seize, and take over. Face to face, we tone down the rhetoric and adopt non-aggressive postures. But we’re still afraid to personalize, to communicate as if we’re real people expressing ourselves to other real people.
Can we do anything about it? As long as we remain human, yes. As long as we remember the way we’re perceived is up to us, we’ll be as mindful of the messages we send as we need to be. As long as we remember communication is always personal, we’ll realize greater success in our relationships.
As long as we remember, when it comes to corporate language ⎯ verbal or physical ⎯ it always reflects on the brand, we’ll probably find our companies’ paths to success considerably less bumpy.
I know you didn’t say anything. But are you talkin’ to me? (WARNING! BAD WORDS!)
— Image by Zarateman via Wikimedia Commons