I am watching with amusement a local business development group attempting to rally around the same goal but with minimal success. The reason I am amused is because of the words they are choosing to use in describing each others needs and their own perceptions. They are further insulting each other without meaning to. This is something I recognize in the outside world all of the time. Most of our issues are a matter of semantics. We don't disagree as much as we perceive. We just don't choose the correct words to a.) state what we mean and b.) get what we want.
A Case Study
For example, the situation I am watching involves several groups attempting to develop business around a core industry. Each group plays a particular role, some with more power to outwardly direct the industry and others with just as much if not more power but less so in the actual development. The word “weak” was used to describe the later group in a heated conversation. I laughed out loud and clutched my heart at the same time. You don't insult the ones you are looking to for support even if “weak” is a valid description in a particular situation. Identifying them as having a different stake in the issue would have been a better move.
Here are four ways to use words more effectively.
Listen, listen, listen and listen some more. Listen to them and yourself and put yourself in the shoes of the other. Would you want to be referred to as weak? I think not. Consider words that are more balancing. If needed use a dictionary but stay within the bounds of normal language for the topic.
Don't respond immediately. This is so difficult to follow but one of the best pieces of advice anyone ever gave me. Wait, smile, and wait some more. Do you really have something to contribute or do you think you gain power by saying just anything? Or worse yet, do you just need to hear yourself speak?
Return to the issues. When words have been misunderstood the best way to diffuse is to return to the issues at hand. Do you know what they are and have they been identified before the discussion started?
Keep up. Sounds silly but if you are speaking to a broad audience do you understand the real issues? Are you aware of the world and its changing vernacular? We can get side tracked as we age and wake up one day to discover the world has changed under our feet. Make an effort to understand what someone is attempting to convey and where their points of reference might be staked.
I am not one for watering down language—George Carlin has my respect in many ways. Say what you mean don't speak to be mean. Choosing words carefully can mean the difference between building bridges or creating unnecessary oceans.