“England and America are two countries divided by a common language.”
One of the biggest confusions people can have in communication is using the same words, but meaning different things.
I don’t mean homonyms, stereotype, or any other typifying agent. I’m not talking about the pronunciation of tomato or potato either. I’m talking about literal speech, interpretation, and where it all falls down between people.
We see this kind of improperly filtered language problem all the time with conversation. Whether we’re speaking or listening, we miss bits where they’re important.
If you ask how I’m doing, and I respond with “I’m fine.” – what do you think I mean? Do I really mean I’m doing well, or am I perhaps masking a bigger problem that I’d rather not discuss?
If I tell you things are hectic or ridiculous at work, does that mean I’m struggling with my job, or that I’m in my glory as an organizer and producer?
It’s not just interpersonal communication either – language affects how we do business.
We also see this when we’re avoiding legal documents, or asking for the shorthand version of an acceptable use policy.
We see a misunderstanding in product warranties, hardware manuals,
Intentional or not, even as practiced communicators, we have a lot of chances to suck at communicating.
Where we never expect to see this language gap – but where we really should expect it – is at work.
Your job description is probably made up of verbs. You do things.
Traditional skilled workers are paragons of this. If you’re a carpenter, you assemble things from wood. Mechanics fix cars. Millwrights fix machinery. Engineers have large masses of verbs attached to their work.
It gets worse, however, when you’re a knowledge worker.
If you’re a copywriter, you write copy. Bloggers write. Programmers create working systems on computers out of their own, specialized languages.
But you can’t deliver copywriting, can you? You can’t give someone else the verb you have to carry out to create value for them. Even if your job is to deliver a presentation – the delivering is not the deliverable.
Your deliverables need to be nouns. Otherwise how do you hand them over?
You can’t deliver market research. But you can deliver a market status report.
Like carpentry becomes a house or a bench, other kinds of skillwork and knowledge work need to transmute to nouns.
Bloggers don’t deliver blogging, they deliver blog posts.
Copywriters don’t deliver writing, the verb, they deliver documents as completed nouns.
Even with presenters, speaking in public, the delivery finishes – the noun is complete – when we’ve left the stage and the audience applauds or heckles. The deliverable is the experience, past-tense.
Consider the language you’re communicating in.
Not just for the sake of getting a point across. Because we limit our liability through specificity, be careful how you transmit your deliverables.
Make sure you’re speaking in verbs where appropriate, and promising nouns where it counts.