How language shapes the way we work

I am a big believer in the power of language to change the world. The way we communicate, whether verbally, digitally or physically, has a massive effect on how we work, live and learn.

Image from Starkey Foundation

As a dyslexic, I have always been interested in the way we are able to understand language in a different manner, and interpret words in exciting new ways.  I could never understand the words going up on the blackboard in my science classes at school, yet the words I heard astronauts during the moon landings have inspired me my whole life.

I particularly love how dextrous language is – words that aren’t in the dictionary can quickly find their way into our mouths and worlds, and soon become established. 

Whether it’s the newly-crowned Word of the Year ‘photobomb’ or one of the 1,700 words Shakespeare coined – from ‘madcap’ to ‘moonbeam’ to ‘mountaineer’ - the way we use language is constantly evolving.  My own favourite word is fantabulous, a formerly made-up word that I often use with my daughter Holly.

In business, language is often used as a weapon. Sharp-suited  businesspersons can try to intimidate with complicated wordplay and hide behind acronyms, when all that is needed is simple terms to explain the issues. I always stop people who are overcomplicating things and ask them to put it in plain terms. If they can’t, what they are talking about is probably not worth the trouble. The same goes with business pitches – if you can’t explain it on the back of an envelope, it’s probably rubbish.

Image by Greg Rose

The type of words we use can define our mood. As an eternal optimist, some of my most commonly-used words include ‘wonderful’, ‘delightful’ and, of course, ‘YES!’. Using positive language encourages positive behaviour, and can really set the tone for conversations, meetings, projects and even whole brands.

Image from Virgin Unite

I was fascinated to read Virgin Unite and YouGov’s new research into the language young people in the UK like to associate with business. The top three words to describe the kind of culture they want to see in business were, ‘innovative’, ‘creative’ and ‘fun’. This is really encouraging, and they happen to be words I love to use too. The top three words or phrases they chose to describe the type of company they’d be most successful working for were, ‘fair to employees’, ‘responsible’, and ‘inspiring change’. It bodes well for the next generation of business, working to achieve success of the people and the planet, as well as profit.

How do you think the way we use language is affecting the way we collaborate? Head over to Virgin Unite to get involved in the language of work theme, and find out more.

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