It's Not Just Semantics. Words Make an Enormous Difference in Leadership
BY Margaret Heffernan
If you can't communicate clearly, you can't do business.
A few weeks ago, I mentioned to a group of entrepreneurs that I am not a fan of Jim Collins. There are many reasons, but one of them is that I dislike when he presents his work as though it is science. Business is not a science; it is not susceptible to experiments that can be controlled and replicated. Everything in business is too unpredictable for that--every business, employee, product, market is different and keeps changing. And there's no such thing as "pure" business the way there is "pure" physics. So when Collins talks about his "lab," an alarm goes off in my mind.
"But it's just words," one business owner insisted.
No, it is not just words. Words are how people think. When you misuse words, you diminish your ability to think clearly and truthfully. As words lose their meaning through misuse, I have fewer tools with which to imagine and then communicate my ideas. What that means is that words are, perhaps, the most fundamental part of a business because without them you can't connect to other people--and can't do a thing.
At TEDGlobal this week, Julian Treasure talked about how to make yourself heard. Treasure works with sounds as his profession; he consults companies on the acoustics of their offices and their stores. He is a professional listener. So he values words a great deal.
"What am I going to say," he asked his TEDGlobal audience in Edinburgh, Scotland, "the next time I encounter something that fills me with awe? Awesome? It doesn't mean anything any more. It's so overused and misused that it won't do for me what I need it to do."
It may seem peculiar to write a post about language. Isn't that the province of English professors? But all business involves communication.
When you use words loosely, without care and consideration, you erode trust in yourself and in what you're saying. When you squander words, you diminish your power.