The role of shared corporate language in staff and client communication


The June issue of BOSS magazine has a very interesting piece titled “Lost in Translation”, which examines the role of building a shared corporate language for employees and clients. (The article is currently available online though AFR often takes these offline after a period.) The article quotes me as follows:

“Management consultant Ross Dawson, from Advanced Human Technologies, says there’s good reason for specialists to talk this way. “You have to think about the broader context. When people become specialised they need a specialised vocabulary. It’s useful to get a verbal shorthand. But it can create barriers

to understanding, both within and outside organisations.”

One of the perennial debates in linguistics is whether language is the origin of thought or the other way around. This seems like an odd question to a layperson. Surely it’s a no-brainer to conclude that without thought there can be no language? But there is evidence that changing the way language is used can alter the way people think and then behave. It’s the theory behind neurolinguistic programming, a still-controversial amalgam of linguistic and psychoanalytic techniques designed to improve the subject’s ability to function, usually in the workplace.

Some psychotherapists contend that NLP practitioners try to duplicate their function without their qualifications. But at its simplest, NLP is a technique that asks people what they really mean, to encourage them to think and communicate clearly. It represents what Dawson sees as a kind of harmonising of language across different communities.

However there is another approach to reining in linguistic anarchy that Dawson describes as codification. Codification occurs when a company provides a strict definition of commonly used words and phrases. Take the word “incident”. Does it just mean something that happened? Or does it go further than that?”

I have been involved in NLP for many years, and gained my Master Practitioner qualification a decade ago. While I consistently apply the wealth of ideas in the domain in my consulting work, I rarely talk about NLP to clients, unless they’re specifically interested. However the key issues of how language enables (or obscures) communication are immensely relevant in business.

I’ve certainly seen that in client relationships, where aligning language can be a powerful enabler of high-value relationships. In my book Developing Knowledge-Based Client Relationships I use a number of examples of how professional firms have aligned language with clients, for example Arc Worldwide getting both its staff and its clients to use the same glossaries to ensure they are using words the same way. In my four-phase approach to developing client relationships – Engaging | Aligning | Developing | Partnering – the all-important Aligning stage is largely about aligning language and communication between an organization and its client. It’s good to see that fundamental issues of aligning communication are on the agenda in business, because these are vital in driving performance and results.