What you say, what you type, and how you communicate says a lot about you and your expertise. Sprinkle in unusual words and people might sit up and notice, although your word choices can also alienate people if they have no idea what you're talking about.

In business and in life, it's important to communicate in ways that will add some flavor and spice, but to also stick to familiar enough words and phrases people already understand.

There are times when a phrase like "circle the wagons" is helpful with a certain audience (e.g., an older one), but it has lost any spark and it's probably best to avoid it. It means to start over, but if you're an insightful and smart person you know it's way too dated.

My favorite expression and one I probably use too often is "in your wheelhouse," which to me means a subject or topic that is within your area of expertise.

The phrase has some interesting origins. Maybe that's why I still like it. Originally, a wheelhouse was a compartment on a boat. The captain might be "in his or her wheelhouse," meaning in full control over an area meant for that role. The captain isn't out on the deck scrubbing things down and isn't in the engine compartment fixing a leak.

Baseball players borrowed the term long ago. A batter who is "in his or her wheelhouse" is within a power zone where it's possible to hit a home run.

You could also say a "sweet spot," in that the outcome will probably be favorable for everyone involved (except for the other team).

To me, it's all about efficiency.

I've been reading a book called Traction that came out in 2012. Small businesses use what the author calls the Entrepreneurial Operating System, or EOS, to run a company more effectively. One of the main points of the book is that, as a leader in business, it's important to make sure employees are in the "right seat" and using their greatest skills and talents. 

When I was mentoring college students, I used to talk about whether someone was "in their wheelhouse" and was effective in their job. This was an important discussion because college is a safe place to fail, but the real world is less forgiving. Young adults who figure out their wheelhouse before they start a career will be better off than those who learn on the job. (It turns out on-the-job training is not that viable these days.)

My wheelhouse was always writing and still is. I'll always be a writer. However, I also gravitate toward people management because I love seeing others succeed and thrive. It's such a rewarding feeling to mentor and train someone and then watch them grow. They find their wheelhouse and I can say I played a role in that discovery.

As a final piece of advice: It's no fun being outside of your wheelhouse. It means you are not as effective and you don't quite know how to find the right compartment. If you are struggling with this issue, drop me an email and we can discuss what is boxing you in.

For the rest of you? Keep saying the phrase. If it helps you communicate, if it is a way to streamline a conversation and become more efficient, more power (zones) to you.

Published on: Oct 10, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.