Words are incredibly important. They're some of the most powerful tools that we have and they can be used to encourage, to discourage, and to shape expectations--for better or worse.
Take Wall Street--an industry that is rife with confusing jargon, dense and complicated terminology, and terms and phrases that are at best confusing and at worst outright misleading. It is my belief that Wall Street uses terminology that is meant to intentionally confuse people, keeping business practices opaque because it continues to make money. I plan to fight this in part with Love the Hustle, my first book, which relates a combination of advice and experience on finance, career, and Wall Street. Big banks use the power of words to support their bottom line in a way that acts directly against clients' interests. Words can be used to support your business in a positive way, if you're aware of their power and use them appropriately.
What's in a name?
The way we describe things taps subconscious associations and starts to shape perceptions immediately and powerfully, more so than most people realize.
There is a reason that Starbucks calls a grilled sandwich a panini while Dunkin' Donuts terms it a "Big N' Toasted." The two products may be different, but you don't have to try them both to know that. Immediately, the names themselves invoke very different associations: European roots vs. down-home establishment.
As I prepared to launch LexION Capital, one of the three clients who urged to me to start my own wealth management firm in the first place helped me decide on a name. The "L" was taken from my own name and signifies leadership. Then, "ex" represents the fact that we completely detach from the way big banks on Wall Street conduct business. The end of the firm's name, "ION," stands for ionic charge. It was a good-luck nod to the fact that I and this early client, a longtime mentor of mine and a successful entrepreneur himself, had both studied chemistry in college. In the early planning stages, while I worked nights on my company and days at the office (a sleep-deprived schedule entrepreneurs know all too well) the powerful meaning of that name helped make my vision that much more real. Later, when I brought my first hires on board, it continued to help communicate and reinforce the vision of the firm.
Think of the sheer number of volunteer organizations and non-profits in this country. Now think of one standout organization (founded on the steps of my alma mater, no less!): the Peace Corps. That powerful and evocative name totally transforms the idea of volunteering.
Wield the power of words
Words are not simply units of information that we use to communicate facts. They are powerful tools that create expectation, and that's especially true of words that come from an authority figure. Said another way, the language you use as a business leader shapes the reality of your employees.
Imagine that a major project hits an unforeseen snag. Consider two very different ways to tell your team about it. Both options communicate urgency, but only one is empowering for your team to hear.
First, Option A: "There's a big problem." In this case, the only information given is that something is wrong.
Now, Option B: "We have a growth opportunity." Here, the same basic information is implied--clearly, there's an issue to address--but two important things are also achieved. This phrasing both reminds your team that you're in this together ("we have an opportunity") and suggests taking action ("we need to deal with it"). Right away, this frames the situation as an opportunity for collaborating on a solution.
All problems are opportunities for growth and better practices. It's not just how you talk about them, but how you express them that determines the outcome.