THE BLOG
10/25/2013 04:52 pm ET | Updated Dec 25, 2013

How Words Can Divide Us

Have you noticed how we allow certain words to divide us as people? Some say this is a core issue that inhibits progress in business.

As voices for our company, we must constantly test our audience to determine what brings them to action and what shuts them down.

For many of us, influencing engagement is the primary goal when posting a blog, sending an email or writing marketing content. If our words don't provoke comments or replies, something isn't working which can affect our sales.

In my attempts to bring others on board, I've experienced several failed missions. After carefully crafting my words and getting little to no response, I've felt like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, "I'm not going to be ignored!"

That's one of the reasons why I've spent the last 20 years studying the impact of our words. We want to connect meaningfully and achieve a desired outcome, like getting new clients. The first step is to notice where we're missing the mark.

Several years ago, I wrote book reviews for the spiritual hub of the Pacific NW, New Renaissance Bookshop. If I used the word God anywhere in the email, a flood of unsubscribes would follow.

I had to continually get creative in order to "advance the conversation" beyond New Age jargon: Oneness, embodiment, divine feminine, consciousness, sacred passage.

When I dropped those canned expressions, several things would happen:

• Spiritual rookies would open their eyes for the first time with curiosity.
• Spiritual connoisseurs would think I'm talking about something new.
• The cash register would ring like crazy in book sales.

One of my friends loves the practice of personal growth, but is repulsed by the word juicy, an adjective used by coaches to make their offerings more enticing: This juicy teleclass. My juicy new blog. Your free juicy bonus gift.

It's an easy word to choose when we're excited, but the juice doesn't satisfy our thirst! There's a captivating article about "why juicy is ineffective" from a marketing perspective. I'm thrilled someone finally opened this discussion with tact.

A corporate client says he instantly loses interest when the words "turn-key approach" are used in a sales pitch.

Then he rattled off a list of phrases that have lost potency, yet still get tossed around: empower, move the needle, corporate values, best practices, leverage, out-of-the-box thinking.

"Jargon masks real meaning," says Jennifer Chatman, management professor at the University of California-Berkeley's Haas School of Business. "People use it as a substitute for thinking hard and clearly about their goals and the direction that they want to give others."

Awareness of our blind spots is a major step in personal and professional growth.

Self-aware individuals gain drastic advantages over their industry cohorts when they challenge themselves to speak with originality or ask a professional, "How can I say this better?"

For the next few days, notice what words and phrases get commonly used at work or online. Write them down. Ask yourself these questions to break up patterns of thought:

• How would I explain this word to my 6-year old?
This will help you find simplicity.

• What is the dictionary definition or original meaning?
This may explain why the word triggers others or doesn't work well.

• How else can we say this?
Look up synonyms or ask customers what that word means to them.

• Is there a story or analogy to better support my words?
Story is the easiest way to make ourselves relevant and relatable.

See what happens when you communicate in a new way. You may notice your customers' eyes light up, their replies become clear and direct, and their appreciation for you becomes evident. A match has occurred. Congratulations!