Your Language Holds You Back


I like to speak in absolutes, so let’s try this one on for size.

The single biggest thing that holds you back in business is the way you speak.

I can’t tell you how many times I speak to Human Capital professionals who talk like wanna-be CNBC anchorwomen.

  • drinking through a fire hose
  • knowledge throughput solutions
  • end users
  • interface
  • workspace
  • interaction layer
  • deploy
  • paradigm
  • utilize
  • contextual utilization
  • net takeaway

Ugh. It’s so frustrating.

But jargon is easy to criticize.

What’s worse is when you meet a colleague who is clearly bright & articulate. You speak to her like the interesting and compelling person you think she is, and she responds with some post-modern, deconstructed sentence that makes her sound like a corporate robot. She’s using verbs as nouns. Nouns as verbs. Adverbs that don’t make sense. Awkward sentences constructed to sound like an image of an educated, intellectual speaker who doesn’t really exist.

At the end of the day, I firmly believe that B2B solutions must align with B2C solutions — in tandem with the company’s brand strategy — in order to pass the elevator test for authentic consumer engagement in this space.

It’s jarring. It’s off-putting. Who talks like that in real life?

Listen, I know that much of life is a performance. Business included. But when I hear a colleague speak in stilted language, I feel sorry for her. I wonder if she’s speaking like that because she is insecure. Is she afraid that I’m judging her? Does she think this makes her sound smarter?

I wonder if she knows that her choice in language is creating a distance between us.


So I watch quite a few Ted videos and I am trying to follow the example of brilliant speakers — people who are successful in life and business — and communicate in a more authentic way. I want to use language that reflects my values and beliefs. When I speak and write, I want to be heard.

The best Ted speakers — the ones that make money in life and make a difference in the world — don’t speak like corporate robots. They speak like real people. Like this video.

Amazing people are comfortable with who they are and don’t have to overcompensate for deficiencies with flouncy and awkward language. They say what they mean. They share their ideas. They trust that they’ve been heard.

So I wonder — what’s the risk of using your real voice at work? What do you lose if you stop speaking like a fake lawyer and start speaking like a real human being? Can you identify the fear inside of you that makes you speak like a douchebag instead of speaking to me like my friend?

I want to know — how can you learn to be truly confident and secure when speaking about things you love? And how can I help?

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