If you worry about how you dress for going to work each morning, you might want to spend a few minutes to think about the words you use when you speak and write. They are the clothes that dress your thoughts.
Use the vocabulary of a college student and you will be ajudged young and inexperienced. Use the vocabulary of a sharpie and you will be ajudged cunning and untrustworthy. Use the vocabulary of a tired, jaded old-timer and you will be adjudged a has-been. Use the vocabulary of a blue-collar worker and you will be adjudged unsuitable for the executive suite.
Yes, the successful have their own distinct vocabulary too.
If your ambition is to be a professional success, you must not only dress for the part, but dress your thoughts for the part. If you aren’t already blessed — thanks to family background, academic background, social background or work experience — with a vocabulary right for a successful, fast-track professional, don’t sweat it. You can acquire one through a modest effort sustained over a few weeks or months. It’s a little harder than buying a new wardrobe but not as hard as going through adolescence again.
The vocabulary of success mimics the qualities found in the thought processes of successful people. The most important among those qualities are efficiency, tact, confidence and color.
1. Efficiency: Use only words that count.
Nothing gives away a lazy mind like using words that add no meaning or, often, merely add vagueness. “In my opinion it’s incumbent on all of you to avoid unnecessary complexity,” isn’t as efficient as “Keep it simple”. The first rule of efficiency is to leave out unnecessary words. Anyone who uses unnecessary words or unnecessarily long words will be judged incapable of clear thought.
In our example, “in my opinion” is unnecessary because anything you say is obviously your opinion unless you say it’s someone else’s opinion. “It’s incumbent on” is another phrase that has a sonorous ring but adds no meaning. “All of” is unnecessary because it’s understood that it applies to whomever the speaker is addressing. Once the other unnecessary phrases are cut, even “you” is unnecessary because it’s understood. Therefore, the phrase could be cut down to “Avoid unnecessary complexity,” which are three very long and clumsy words that say “Keep it simple.”
Keeping your sentences simple is the most important way to sound like an intelligent professional. It’s also the most difficult because it requires a clear knowledge of the message you want to deliver. But the effort of thinking out what you want to say will be well repaid not only in making you sound more intelligent, but in enhancing the clarity of your thinking.
2. Tact: Use words that convey respect.
One of the saddest, most wasteful problems arise from people who, without intending to, speak in words that add to the confusion, ill will, anger and hostility of a situation. By constructing sentences with attention to the courtesy, you can inject courtesy and positive feelings to diffuse tensions and negativity and help make all parties feel more inclinded to work toward a favorable outcome.
“I’m telling you to go talk to that guy,” has the same essential meaning as “I’d like you to speak with that man.” Yet the effect of the two sentences on the listener is like night and day. The first conveys a lack of respect toward the listener and the person she is expected to see. It isn’t likely to make the listener positively inclined toward the speaker or to attach any importance to the man she is expected to speak with. The second sentence conveys respect and courtesy toward both, making the meeting more likely to be meaningful and positive.
“Do something about the big mess you made,” loads down the listener with unnecessary pressure and blame. “Let’s straighten out this confusion,” focuses on the constructive act of solving a problem rather than fixing blame. It also creates more incentive for cooperation by putting the speaker on the same side as the listener, with the same motivation for wanting to work toward a good outcome. By calling the situation “confusion”, blame is diffused rather than focused.
“What do you expect us to do about it?” conveys hostility and unresponsiveness by setting off the listener “You” from the speaker “us” in an adversarial context. “How may we help you?” conveys a respectful, cooperative and responsive attitude in which the listener is made to feel respected.
In the manageral or professional world, there is little room for people who add to the conflicts and eruptions that arise in the course of everyday business. What is valued are people who can help diffuse the potential for conflict and channel energies toward constructive solutions rather than intensifying the conflict and ill will. That means people who know how to use words that convey courtesy and respect.
3. Confidence: Use words that inspire trust.
The business world turns on faith. Marketers pre-sell on the faith that manufacturing will produce the products in time for promised delivery. Manufacturers install production lines and hire employees on faith that suppliers will ship components in time to keep assembly lines humming. Bankers lend millions on faith that borrowers will use the money productively so as to be able to repay the loans. Without faith and confidence, the business world would grind quickly to a halt, to the loss of all concerned. Next
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