Business Communications – Language and Words Matter

StrategyDriven Business Communications ArticleNowhere is it clearer than in politics that language matters. Indeed, we often hear about the ‘spin’ politicians follow-up with after using poorly chosen words or making a not so well thought-out statement. While we might criticize politicians’ use of key words and tricky phrases that we feel distort the meaning or interpretation of a set of circumstances, we should step back for a moment, consider why they do this, and learn from their example because language and words do matter.[wcm_restrict plans=”49073, 25542, 25653″]

Every day, leaders deliver numerous messages to their workforce. They reinforce visions, communicate decisions, and provide direction. Yet at times we wonder why we were unable to achieve the results desired. All too often, the answer is that we got what we asked for; we just didn’t ask for what we truly wanted.

An Example…

Organizational cost reductions can be an uncomfortable process to endure; often resulting in the elimination of workers which represents a traumatic event for both managers and employees. Consequently, leaders often try to cloak cost reduction initiatives in another language; using terms such as efficiency, output, and engagement. Communicating to the workforce, these leaders indicate the organization is seeking to sure-up its financial position by improving efficiency, heightening output, and/or bettering workforce engagement. They then go on to seek employee support in identifying and implementing such programs that will enable the organization to survive and thrive.

Yet simply improving efficiency, heightening output, or better engaging the workforce doesn’t necessarily translate into cost reductions. Indeed, the opposite can actually result. (See StrategyDriven Alternative Selection article, More Efficient Processes Can Increase Costs) Workers told to improve efficiency may eagerly focus on heightening their own efficiency; seeking to reduce their stressful 50 – 60 hour work week by a few hours here and there. If their salaried workers, their efficiency gain does little or nothing to reduce company costs as payroll outlays remain the same. If the company’s workers are compensated on an hourly basis, they may resist efficiency improvements because it reduces their income level. Consequently, the use of alternate or imprecise language often results in the failure to achieve meaningful cost reductions.

Leaders seeking to reduce costs should openly and directly communicate this goal with workers. In doing so, the workforce now has a different objective to obtain. No longer will they simply seek to save a few work hours here or there or view the initiative as something that must be resisted, rather, they can offer suggestions for actually reducing costs. While some cost reductions may involve a reduction in hours worked, others are likely include the elimination of non-personnel resource waste. Such suggestions concurrently support leadership’s cost reduction and workers job security goals. (See StrategyDriven’s Inventory Management and Procurement Process Optimization for one such example.)


Regardless of the message, leaders are far more likely to achieve the results they seek if the language and words they use are precise, concise, and direct. While important to be respectful and display an appropriate degree of tact in ones communications, the cliché is true… be careful of what you ask for, you just might get it.[/wcm_restrict][wcm_nonmember plans=”49073, 25542, 25653″]

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About the Author

Nathan Ives, StrategyDriven Principal is a StrategyDriven Principal and Host of the StrategyDriven Podcast. For over twenty years, he has served as trusted advisor to executives and managers at dozens of Fortune 500 and smaller companies in the areas of management effectiveness, organizational development, and process improvement. To read Nathan’s complete biography, click here.

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