Words that mean business: the importance of language

In an interview with Forbes magazine, Nadella was even prepared to confront the vexed question of access to personal information after the revelations of whistle-blower Jamie Snowden. “In the post-Snowden world,” he said, “you need to enable others to build their own cloud and have mobility of applications.”

The influential website Digital Trends had been expecting “a defensive response or a smoke-screen of platitudes”, especially after the criticism that had been levelled at Microsoft over this issue. 

“Instead,” said Digital Trends, “Nadella tackles the problem, and explains what it means for the company. He recognizes that not everyone is comfortable handing data over to a third party and promises to build products for those who’d rather not. This bodes well for Microsoft’s stance on privacy, and indicates that the company will be more sensitive to customer needs during his tenure.”

It’s amazing what a positive effect a few honest, thoughtful words can have. Maybe media training courses are to blame for the fact that so many business leaders sound just like politicians – going through well-rehearsed scripts that pay lip service to all the fashionable ideas of the day while actually saying as little as possible.

So when someone speaks like Satya Nadella, it’s not just journalists who are impressed, but the public at large.

If you care about your customers, or potential customers, you want to address their concerns and talk to them in language they understand. Although there are occasions when you can’t afford to be too specific, the habit of using high-flown abstraction is a dangerous one. It usually means you care more about sounding good than communicating. It makes you more cautious and less honest.

When I wonder about using certain words or expressions, I inwardly ask myself a few simple questions. Am I making myself clear? Have I really worked this out for myself? Can I say anything useful? If not, I know I must go away, work it out and come back when I can say something I really mean.

And when I can’t understand someone who is burbling on about paradigm shifts and thought showers, I take comfort in the words of Albert Einstein, who famously said: “If you can’t explain something simply, you don’t understand it well.”

Mark Dixon is the founder and group CEO at workspace provider Regus.

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