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You could hardly have missed it over the past week or so. Democratic political consultant James Carville has been all over the news talking about people in his own party. He says they’re missing a huge chance to connect with the voters they need to attract.
How? By not speaking their language. Instead, as Carville told Vox, too many Democrats are talking like they’re in some elite faculty lounge.
“You ever get the sense that people in faculty lounges in fancy colleges use a different language than ordinary people? They come up with a word like ‘LatinX’ that no one else uses. Or they use a phrase like ‘communities of color.’ I don’t know anyone who speaks like that. I don’t know anyone who lives in a ‘community of color.’ I know lots of white and Black and brown people and they all live in … neighborhoods.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with these phrases. But this is not how people talk. This is not how voters talk. And doing it anyway is a signal that you’re talking one language and the people you want to vote for you are speaking another language.”
Whatever we might think about Carville, “woke” Democrats, and faculty lounge lingo, it’s pretty clear the longtime, successful operative knows what he’s talking about when it comes to connecting with an audience.
Whether in politics or business, we have much more impact and way more influence when we speak their language.
We sometimes fail to do that.
In an effort to seem smart, experienced, and exactly right for the job, resume-writers often pad their summaries with overblown verbiage that says very little.
- They’ve “strategically implemented growth strategies.”
- They “proactively integrate cutting-edge client services.”
- They can easily “conceptualize cross-platform functionalities.”
And don’t get me started on sales professionals. Way too many of them offer to “effectuate cutting-edge process improvements” or “provide innovative e-commerce solutions.”
You can scout the canned sales messages in your LinkedIn inbox for more examples of language that completely misses the mark. You’re likely to find a lot of them. I also get drivel through the contact form on my website that leaves me wondering how anybody could respond positively.
Who talks like that?
Some people are deliberately obfuscating with language that’s not clear. They intend to mislead us or camouflage their real meaning. Or they just want to seem smarter than they are.
Even without malign motives, though, it’s easy to slip into the business blahblah, the professional equivalent of Carville’s “fancy faculty lounge language.” People pick it up from MBA programs, business books, and colleagues. And it can be a hard habit to shake.
You’ll be better off if you do shake it, though. Your communication will be clearer, for openers. And you’ll have a better chance of making a real connection with the people you serve (or hope to).
So how can you make the switch to more conversational language?
Step into their map of the world.
We naturally see everything from our own point of view. Then we communicate according to our perception. The words we use, our tone of voice, even our gestures and facial expressions grow out of the way we perceive the situation.
What if we make an intentional effort to look at things differently? To see from another vantage point? To step into someone else’s map of the world?
Chances are, even making the effort to do that will make for a better connection with them.
Imagine talking to your mother, neighbor, or childhood friend.
If you were just sitting down for a conversation like that, how would you talk about your work? What would you say about your business if you were sharing a story with someone who’s more interested in you than in the particulars of your latest project at work? If you were curious, too, about what’s going on with them?
Experiment with using that kind of language, even when you’re talking with a colleague or customer, or a potential client.
They may well understand your jargon. They may even use similar language in their own business. That doesn’t mean it works for a real conversation.
Shoot for fewer words and fewer syllables.
They say it’s the soul of wit. Brevity is also useful for being able to make your point without seeing your conversational partner’s eyes glaze over.
Attention spans are short—and getting shorter! We have a much better shot at informing and certainly at persuading someone if we don’t put theirs to the test.
Confidence is key.
There’s no need to put on conversational airs when we’re on solid ground about who we are and what we’re saying.
Speaking plain English reflects enormous confidence in ourselves and our message.
Consider Carville again.
“I always tell people that we’ve got to stop speaking Hebrew and start speaking Yiddish,” he explains. “We have to speak the way regular people speak, the way voters speak. It ain’t complicated. That’s how you connect and persuade.”
Are you persuaded?
I’m curious about your take on language that connects and persuades – I’ll look forward to your comment on the blog.