“The true spirit of conversation consists in building on another man's observation, not overturning it” [Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton, British politician, poet, critic and prolific novelist, 1803-1873]
Words are very powerful. Using a term in stead of another can make a tremendous difference in changing the conversation. Think of the image and language of war, a metaphor that has been taken up so swiftly and pervasively by business in management books. Those words operate in a terribly negative space -- front lines, command and control, etc. it's a mindset of "we" and "them", a collision of opposites.
Call me a contrarian, I like to look at things differently and to use language deliberately so that every sound uttered contains a positive inflection and tone, a reason to enroll the most human of traits, emotion, to reach up, achieve, inspire, open and engage possibilities.
Martin Luther King, Jr. did not start his speech with a PowerPoint (having the power/control to make a point) and statistics. What he said was: "I have a dream" and then painted a picture, a story of what could, not what should not.
There is another reason why when the terminology is wrong, the energy is misdirected -- assumptions. This is the baggage we carry on our shoulders from situations past and baggage by definition is personal, thus not all inclusive. We do not really stop ourselves and check for bad words/terminology the same way we check to make sure the numbers are correct. Yet we should, as reductive and limiting terms can run a company amok in the same way that poor numbers do.
The word "conversation" itself contributed to opening up the dialogue in business. Now let's hope that we don't relegate it to marketing as in generating leads only. Let's choose to be deliberate and aware of what conversation means and how it can be a powerful ally in crafting a strategy and executing along with it.
What are five sure ways to ruin a conversation?
- Tell. The old writer's axiom of "show, don't tell" applies to conversation, too.
- Think about what you're going to say next while the other person is talking. This is true whether you're talking to your spouse or a dissatisfied customer.
- Fall back on the old customer service trick of telling someone you "hear what they're saying," rather than addressing the substance of what they are putting before you.
- Dishonesty. Thanks to the Internet and the proliferation of instant information, we live in an increasingly transparent age. Be sure your fib will find you out. Nothing kills a conversation quicker than deceit.
- Don't take the offramp when you get to it. Want to make sure someone avoids talking to you next time? Then don't end a conversation when it's over. Good salespeople know you can oversell yourself into a failed transaction. The same goes for conversation. Save something for next time and maybe there will actually be a next time.
There is always an opportunity before us to make the words count, and the conversation matter.
[Illusion image: say the color, not the word]