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Right Language, Wrong Dialect

February 26, 2012
Mary Jane Copps

I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t enjoy words, whether spoken or on the page. I grew up in a family of readers; I was encouraged to write for the first time way back in Grade 3 (Mrs. Tomchick was my teacher and she put my story about Flossie the Snowflake up on the bulletin board); I was a ribbon-winning debater in high school. While I struggled through maths and sciences, I delighted in working on essays and presentations. Lucky me!  

It’s the same today. Talking, writing, reading – these are things I do well and I’ve built my life, my business, around these skills and my enjoyment of them.  

So imagine the level of discomfort I feel when I read (or hear) English words without being able to understand their meaning. Truth be told, I get more than uncomfortable in this situation – I panic – and of course that prevents me from reaching any level of clarity.  

We are all capable of creating this level of discomfort with our clients and prospects. It happens when we communicate in a dialect that, rather than educating our audience, excludes them.  

The word dialect comes from the Latin and means “local language or way of speaking”. In business-to-business communication, industry specific words are a dialect. At best, we should avoid using them or, at the very least, become aware of when and how we are using them.  

Here’s a recent example: Two Sunday’s ago I sat down with my laptop to deal with a few email and … I couldn’t access my inbox. A Google message with lots of blue and red popped up in front of me telling me about some sort of discrepancy. I read the message three, four, five times. I clicked on the “next” button, hoping what followed might make to sense to me. No such luck.  

I asked my husband to read the message. He has a long-standing interest in and understanding of computers but, much to my dismay, he didn’t understand it either.  

I sat there reading each word out loud. They were English words but were put together in a way that was completely foreign to me. I didn’t even understand the punctuation!  

What I thought I understood was, if I didn’t do the right thing the possibility existed that I’d either a) lose access to my email or b) lose access to a calendar and Google document I shared with a client.  

I did panic and ended up sending a “help” email to my support team at The Media Farm, http://www.themediafarm.ca. (Apologies guys – I know those types of message must be annoying – especially on a Sunday.) They, of course, understand the dialect and their calm response gave me the courage to simply keep clicking “next”. In the end, Google set up another Gmail account for me, for reasons I still don’t understand. But … I didn’t lose access to my corporate account or my client’s documents. Phew!  

Now while Google wants me using its services, it isn’t really trying to “build relationship” with me. I’m not expecting its dialect will change. There will be more messages in the future that I will not be able to decipher and I will once again send out pleas for help. 

But the experience did make me re-evaluate my own use of language. I talk to a lot of people about a wide-variety of products and services each year. When I use complicated words, projects don’t go as well as expected.  

Keep your words – on the phone and in emails – simple. If you do end up communicating with someone “in the know”, you can always adapt your language to suit their experience. But if you start a conversation in a dialect that is unfamiliar you risk losing the opportunity to build relationship.  

What about you? Does “dialect” ever get in your way? How do you handle it?  

I do want to send a big “THANK YOU” out to Linda Daley at Daley Progress. She has been a wonderful – and patient – support in making my blog more accessible. If you haven’t heard about Linda and the services she provides, do check out her website: http://www.daleyprogress.com 

One last thought:

Do not condemn the judgement of another because it differs from your own. You may both be wrong. -Dandamis, sage (4c BCE)

 

8 COMMENTS

  1. Linda Daley says:

    I have never thought of techno-babble as a dialect but I guess that’s what it is. Drives me crazy but I understand how it can happen. We are so knowledgable about what we do that some concepts become second nature to us – and we forget that they aren’t to other people. I really try not to fall into that trap but I’m sure I’ve been guilty of it.
    Thanks for the shout out 🙂

    • Putri says:

      True, I agree definitely, have to agree with this It’s just too bad that not everyone knows the power of it A lot of fighting happens because of misunderstandings, of lack of communication well, i hope one day everyone will realize the power of words .

  2. You actually make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this matter to be actually something which I think I would never understand. It seems too complicated and very broad for me. I’m looking forward for your next post, I’ll try to get the hang of it!
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