I have no doubt that the way we language our thoughts has a profound effect on what we create in our lives. Yet we forget the powerful creative force words have.
The way we use every day words has become as invisible to us as the air we breathe; it’s there but we hardly notice it. This ‘not noticing’ is a key factor when it comes to our culture – maintaining the status quo depends upon you and I ‘not noticing’.
As an example, here’s a list of words and phrases we use on a regular basis when describing our business activities:
Belonging to the company
Fight off the competition
The battle for market share
Winning new customers
Combatting falling sales
Chief Executive Officer
Captains of industry
The language of combat
Our language bristles with it: the metaphor of war. And it seems like an apt enough analogy for business, after all, it’s a minefield out there and we’re all fighting for survival, right? The metaphor of war helps us think and talk about our businesses in terms we already understand and that are deeply entrenched in our culture. Look around and you’ll see most businesses are built on military concepts such as top down decision-making, hierarchical chains of command, suits and uniforms, having headquarters.
So what of it?
Only this. Ask yourself if the metaphor of war is simply describing what’s already there, or if the metaphor is creating the reality? Think about it for a minute. There can be no war without dehumanising its participants; both the soldiers and the opponents. War is destructive and seeing the world through the lens of warfare leads inevitably to a polarised way of thinking about human beings: ‘us and them’. You can see where I’m going with this; it’s reflected in our business world too: management vs employees, us against the competition, the constant fight for market share.
If it bothers you, even slightly, that the way you speak about and in your business helps create an embattled worldview where your competitors are the enemy and customers are reduced to targets for your latest sales campaign, then here are two examples of ways to re-language what you’re wanting to achieve:
- when creating promotional giveaways on social media, stop participating in the process of making it a competition, of pitting customers against each other, ending up with one lucky winner (and by implication many unlucky losers) . Instead, reframe it as creating an opportunity for people to exchange their email address for the possibility of receiving your products as a gift. It’s a small shift with a potent energetic lift.
- If you’re supporting great causes and you want to encourage others to participate, use copy that’s inspiring; create a compelling new vision of how things could be rather than words which are a call to arms such as ‘join the fight against’ and and ‘wage war on’ which keeps us stuck in the loop of an ‘us and them’ separation mentality.
Perhaps the most insidious war-mongering happens inside our own heads. When we describe ourselves as struggling to lose weight, or battling to find time, when we attack ourselves for not being good enough, or achieving enough, when we get defensive about our failures, we wage war on the self and treat our own selves like the enemy.
Every day, we gird our loins, go out into the fray and do battle, kick ass, win the day. War is by nature divisive. It takes tremendous energy to keep things separate: my brand, my territory, my customers, my IP. No wonder entrepreneurs and corporate employees alike feel so exhausted. What would it feel like if instead we spent our time creating trust, unity and collaboration? Is it possible we would feel more nourished, energised and supported? Imagine freely co-creating our products, our art, our services in an environment of mutual care as we joyfully inspire others to buy what we have created!
There’s always a story that stands behind your story. There are so many other metaphors we can use to describe the world of commerce; metaphors that invite collaboration and stewardship. Agriculture springs to mind: we have branch offices, reap the benefits of low-hanging fruit using seed capital to grow our organisations as they blossom and thrive. And by the way, what field do you work in? (Strawberry?)
The point is, you can make a choice about the story that invisibly powers your story. Which?
I’m so happy to have discovered the following people who have given impetus to my thinking on this topic. Highly recommended reading.