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  • Tim Lambert

Language is Laced with Limitations

Have you ever stopped to think about some of the words and phrases we routinely use that are often unsuitable for the events and situations we use them to describe?

It’s a form of short-hand (for which I mean habitual laziness) that has developed over time, allowing us to ‘cut to the chase’, or bypass the need for actual thought.

Here are three examples that emphasize my point.

  1. How about ‘grasping the nettle’ or ‘striking whilst the iron is hot’. These are strong, aggressive, physical words that are being used to describe something which is an opportunity for improvement. The language implies that we have to physically attack the situation rather than simply taking advantage of the opportunity.

  2. When things go wrong, we have a tendency to talk about ‘failure’. But where have we failed? Failure is only an appropriate description is we messed up something that we have repeatedly done right in the past. But most of the things we call ‘failures’ are things we have never done before or never tried before. This fact means that we cannot with any certainty guarantee a specific outcome. So the outcome that emerges isn’t a fail, but a new set of data, or a learning experience leading to readjustments and realignment.

Words themselves carry little intrinsic shared meaning. In terms of communication

However, the words we use do betray our thoughts about situations and events. Therefore, being more conscious of what is actually happening, and what we are trying to achieve, will help us choose the words that are more accurately descriptive.

The meaning behind words is altered by a person’s experience of them. You can quickly test this out by asking a group of people for their initial response to the words ‘Appraisal’ or ‘Feedback’ or ‘Lean’.

  1. For some people ‘feedback’ is synonymous with ‘mauling to death’ and ‘criticism’: for others it is synonymous with ‘development’, ‘guidance’, ‘inspiration’, ‘compassion’.

  2. ‘Lean’ can mean a variety of things to people depending on how it is introduced to a business. For some people it means streamlining the flow of a business, and reducing waste. For others it simply means job losses and cost-cutting, because that is how they have experienced it.

So even when we choose and use our words carefully, we must also be mindful of the fact that whilst sharing a vocabulary, we don’t actually speak (or understand) the same language.

That’s why we need to operate at a raised level of consciousness where we consider carefully the way we describe events and activities; but we also remain alert to the way our messages are being received, translated and reinterpreted.


So let’s raise the bar on communication by raising our level of awareness and consciousness.

#communication #consciousness #language #meaning #words #mehrabian

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