You say Tomato, I say Tomato… When Language is the Enemy

  Language turns into story about experience

Things have come to a pretty pass
Our romance is growing flat,
For you like this and the other
While I go for this and that…

Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong taught us a thing or two about the subtle disconnects that can kill relationships. All's fair in love and war goes the saying. Lovers that want to stay together resolve their issues, and meet halfway. Isn't it time we stop being at war with each other?

    It's unfortunate that strategy conversations continue to be full of the language of war. Because the focus on killing, winning, and competition is permeating our language throughout organizations. Groups compete for resources, people within departments compete for attention and people would kill for rewards.

    The war metaphor creates the wrong incentives. A mindset of scarcity is a self-fulfilling prophecy, a train wreck waiting to happen. Competition is also keeping people stuck in their ways ― this produces different flavors of thinking about problems and separate languages.

Your customers don't understand Klingon

    This kind of environment explains why organizations often have a hard time getting out of their own way. There's no shared language. Lack of a common language impacts a common understanding of values and culture. When nobody is on the same page, the context shifts based on where you are.

    A few years ago, I was working with a chemical manufacturing company to grow sales in North America. They sourced products in Europe and Asia, operated in a highly-regulated environment, sold though dealers and distributors, appealed to end users via research and field trials, and developed new formulations thanks to customer feedback and trial efficacy.

    There were many moving parts — and specialists working in each group. Plus several cultures were involved. Amazing skills and experience that were useless when it was time to get on the same wavelength. What it took was a common language to understand the issues, and deliver the organization to market successfully.

    Customers don't speak Klingon — and they shouldn't have to learn it. 

    It explains web sites that look like organizations' charts, content strategies that are more like tactics dreamed up by a few brave souls that may connect with a fraction of the potential intended audiences, and customer service where the accent is on an internal definition of “service,” rather than the customer.

A common language is key to creating the environment that delivers consistent experiences

    While the war metaphor has been incredibly successful at creating a common mindset, it has however built the incentive for division. This in turn has permeated our language.We should talk more about love — love of the work as a good starting point.

    Love is a journey, consistent with the journey of life. It's a metaphor that creates choice — we can take a trip, that could be a long and bumpy road, and also note how far we've come. We could be going somewhere, or be off the tracks and stuck. Or bobbing in high seas and foundering.

    But love is also a physical force that can create strong, healthy relationships, or can revive shaky ones. Love is magic, it can cast a spell on us, fill us with energy and goodwill… as long as we don't use it to go to war.

    In its best performance, love by nature evokes caring and abundance. Characteristics we associate with intimacy, personal concern, positive impact, and curiosity. This is the environment conducive to connection, and a common language is the vehicle.

Shared language creates shared purpose

    Ask the people who had to deal with major crises in social media. In fact, understanding risk communication can help you avert an issue altogether. Digital media has not only accelerated conversion, it has also sped up conclusions. People go from hick-up to lightning catalyst in no time.

    While organizations measure the outcomes of service in concrete terms — the flight arrived on time, the rep answered the call on the first ring — we use different variables to judge the experience. A good or positive service experience depends on intangibles like the way we felt, which is subjective.

    Emotions, trust and feelings about control shape how customers perceive their experience:

  • Emotions influence what we remember, how we score encounters and the decisions we make.
  • Trust is a primitive psychological variable that is essential to any robust and enduring relationship. 
  • Control over one’s environment and knowledge of how events are going to evolve are fundamental psychological needs.

    Clear communication is one of the cues we use to judge whether we're going to have a good experience. It's much easier to communicate well when there is a shared language inside the organization. Shared purpose is a consequence of better understanding.

    In a deep analysis of nine crises I performed for Target a few years ago, I found that most of them unfolded from something a company did or didn't do — a decision, a behavior, or a disaster it caused. A lag in response was a common thread throughout.

    The companies involved key stakeholders from different groups on the inside, and brought in public relations firms often to help with social media as well. Social pundits led to velocity, but often weren't the catalyst, total unknown were. Companies' struggles compounded because of lack of a shared purpose.

    Without exception, they rebounded by taking action and communicating about their action. The only way to tell a new story for a brand is to change behavior, or put a stake in the ground about future behavior and communicate directly with customers and other stakeholders, publicly.

     A common language puts you on record, and keeps you there. It's a very productive ground where accountability and shared purpose create the incentives that power understanding. This is how we do our best work.

Language can be your friend

    Your customers don't want the world's best service, they want to become the world's best people. They use your product or service to do that. Do you speak that kind of language throughout the organization?

    See how Ducati customers speak about love#:

A spectacular show of love from all over the globe. 91,596 attendees in three days: the 10th edition of the WDW saw its highest attendance ever.