Posts Tagged ‘language’

The story of OK…

Monday, July 20th, 2015

I wonder if, like me, you have ever wondered what the word OK actually means and where it comes from?  Or whether you ever tried to find the answer to these questions…?  I never succeeded until now and as a little favour to other lovers of words, here is the story of Ok.

As a little aside, isn’t interesting how we use this word as social lubrication and how often people use it to mean the very opposite.  We have all been there when we asked someone “What’s the matter?” and got the response “I’m okay…” when it was patently clear that they weren’t.  However, what we do with this insight is a dependent on all sorts of things like how much time do we have, where are we, what is our relationship with the person, what we are trying to achieve and many other issues.  This simple phrase allows us to hide or escape under the guise of coping when we are struggling, or ignore this in another if we feel unable or disinclined to help.

Two little letters that have a versatility and utility that even transcends English and works almost anywhere.

What a difference a word makes

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

I was listening to a politician talking and noticed her use of the word “reform” and that got me thinking.  They always talk about reform, which suggests that they are making things better for us, but I suspect that if you asked most voters they would say they either saw no change or no change for the better.  Politicians are always tinkering with the system, but I wonder if they ever make things better.  They use the word “reform” rather than change, because most people feel frighten or at least adverse to change, but surely everyone is for reform?  Their actions don’t change but wrapping them up with a more appealing label is meant to make them okay…

As business leaders get more media savvy, they too tend to shift their language to disguise the content of what they are suggesting.  The thing is people are only fool for a little while and they quickly translate words like right-sizing to redundancies.  People may not like what you have to tell them but they will respect you more if you tell it like it is.  In my experience, they usually know what is going on despite all management efforts to keep things confidential, so maybe next time you plan to communicate with your troops you might like to do it this way:-

  1. Decide what the purpose of this communication is
  2. Know what you want them to do & feel
  3. Understand where they are coming from
  4. Keep you messages short and simple
  5. Give them a real opportunity to ask questions and respond

It makes all the difference.  I did this with a client company the other day and you could see how pleased they were that a proper opportunity was being made to communicate with them.

WHAT will it take to Change?

Monday, May 7th, 2012

Today, the second guest Blog from Maurice de Castro, leadership expert and speaker, telling the rest of his personal story:

In yesterday’s blog I referred to a time when I faced the challenge of playing my part in helping to turn a business around that was on a slippery slope to nowhere. I used the Yes BUT story as a means of expressing the power and impact of just a couple of words. Well here’s another powerful example.

During that same period in that same business I made another huge mistake which I learned from and has served me well for many years since in both my professional and personal life.

Here is the mistake.  As the business was in such bad shape when I arrived I spent a ridiculous amount of time asking people “WHY?”

  1. “Why do we have to lowest sales performance in the country?”
  2. “Why do we have the highest cost base?”
  3. “Why is morale so low?”
  4. “Why is customer service so poor?”
  5. Etc., etc., etc.

That seemed a good place to start and made sense at the time but it just didn’t work. I realised after a while that every time I asked the question there were no shortage of answers. Everyone had an answer, every answer was different and every answer became a personal belief.

As you know it’s not that easy to change a belief.  It occurred to me that everyone had a story and I had done nothing but get them to focus on that story and replay it to me. Whilst many of those stories made sense the fact that there were so many made it impossible to identify what the real issues were and more importantly get people to think past them.

I realised that people love a good story.  After a while I worked out that I had to change tact completely as the WHY was only pushing us back even further. So I changed the question.  The new question was.

  1. “WHAT will we do to have the highest sales performance in the country?”
  2. “WHAT will we do to be cost leaders in this business?”
  3. “WHAT will we do to raise morale?”
  4. “WHAT will we do to make our customers love us?”

A simple word and a simple blog I know and many readers will be way ahead of the game and say well of course that’s just common sense. Well as they say common sense doesn’t seem to be that common any more.  It wasn’t for me back then but it is now.  By the way, with Yes AND together with WHAT, everything changed.

Yes BUT, No BUT, Yes BUT …

Sunday, May 6th, 2012

Today, a guest blog from Maurice de Castro, leadership expert and speaker, talking about his personal experience in leadership:

From a leadership perspective one of the most crippling environments you can ever find yourself in is the Yes BUT culture. Those two small yet devastatingly powerful words only serve to maintain the status quo and deprive innovation, creativity and imagination of the fuel it needs to see a company thrive. A number of years ago I was asked to lead a particular business through a rather dark time. Terribly low morale, very high costs, poor sales performance, low customer satisfaction and so on.

The business had created its own debilitating web of Yes BUT’s” so that nothing could or would ever change. It was full of good people working extremely hard but trapped in their own creation. Have you ever watched a fly try to free itself from a spider’s web?  Well it’s a little like me trying to stop my wife buying yet another pair of shoes, it ranks on the impossible list. The fly has to be freed.

After many months of sleepless nights I finally found the solution. I asked a toy manufacturer to provide me with 1000 plain white round squeezy stress balls. On each ball I had the words Yes BUT printed on one side with a big red cross struck right through the middle of the words. On the other side of the ball I had the words “Yes AND” printed. I invited every member of staff to join me at a large local theatre where I very clearly presented our Yes BUT dilemma and gave everyone their own ball. I asked them to take theirs ball with them everywhere they went in the business and if they EVER heard the words “Yes BUT” used I asked them to throw their ball at that person as hard as they could regardless of their position. For the next 3 months balls were flying everywhere and I mean everywhere, it was like a war zone. Within 12 months everything changed. Everything! Two small words made the massive difference between success and failure.

Why Welsh Rarebit is called that and its very strange uses! …and what it teaches us about reputation

Saturday, April 14th, 2012

According to Mark Forsyth, author of the Etymologicon:-

“Welsh rarebit used to be called Welsh rabbit, on the basis that when a Welshman promised you something nice to eat like rabbit, you were probably only going to get cheese on toast.  The English also used to believe that the Welsh were crazy about cheese.  Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1811) records that:

The Welch are said to be so remarkably fond of cheese, that in cases of difficulty their midwives apply a piece of toasted cheese to the janua vita [the gates of life] to attract and entice the young Taffy, who smelling it makes vigorous efforts to come forth

So myths become locked into language and accepted by all.  This makes and interesting link back to yesterday’s blog, where people try to control what is said about them (or their clients) in order to build reputation.  In other words, if you get enough tongues repeating the same phrase it becomes unchallenged and thus, to all intents and purposes, true.   This is a very good reason for keeping important messages clear and simple; it makes it possible for people to repeat them without distortion.  The harder a message is to remember, the more likely it will morph into something quite different. 

We tend to think that the more we say, and the longer words we use the more clever we sound.  However there is huge power in simple words and concepts which can not be misunderstood.   Think about it…. one of the most powerful sentences in the English language, one that has changed more lives than any other (probably!) consists of only three words and  eight letters.  I Love You.

So if you want your message to linger (like the taste of a good bit of Welsh Rarebit?!) then keep it short, keep it simple and make it punchy…

“Cheese – milk’s leap toward immortality.”   Clifton Paul Fadiman

“The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.”   Willie Nelson

“How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese?”   Charles de Gaulle

I started out with nothing… and I still got most of it left!

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

Apart from being a wonderful piece of modern American culture and answering the question “Can white men sing the blues?”  this is a great example of using language to convey two meanings at the same time.  The structure of this sentence would normally be used to report something positive, but by making the object a negative word, we have a joyful exercise in pathos. 

In art this can be a source of pleasure.  Most often this kind of contradiction is not deliberate and management double-speak is usually seen through.  Statements that say nothing are futile, and seen through instantly.  It is my experience  that most people are pretty expert at smelling BS and (to paraphrase my mother) “If you can’t say something nice, at least say something clear!” is a great rule.  You may not win any friends but you’ll win a little respect at least!

“Develop a built-in bullshit detector.”  Ernest Hemmingway

“Facts an’ facts, an’ t’ings an t’ings: dem’s all a lotta fockin’ bullshit. Hear me! Dere is no truth but de one truth, an’ that is the truth of Jah Rastafari.”  Bob Marley

The oldest English words (and what they teach us…)

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

Scientists at Reading University in southern England have used a supercomputer called ThamesBlue to model the evolution of words in English and the wider family of Indo-European languages over the last 30,000 years.  Not surprisingly they found that I is one of the oldest words.  This is little surprise but it does illustrate one key point that is at the heart of all Change initiatives and leadership challenges.  You have to deal explicitly with with people’s need to know how your plans will affect/impact them.  This is otherwise known as the W.I.F.M factor (What is in It For Me.)  Fail to address this at your peril!

“Language forces us to perceive the world as man presents it to us.”  Julia Penelope

“We learn what we have said from those who listen to our speaking.”  Kenneth Patton