Choosing Your Words Wisely: Speaking the Language of Business Leadership

Effective business communication is essential to long-term success.

Effective communication in business—whether it is to employees, partners, or clients—is essential to long-term success. Good communication builds trust, brings teams together, and yields better bottom-line results. Finding the right approach, however, can be difficult for some business leaders.

Because each generation has its language of business, the rules of business communication have changed over time. The typewriters and telephones of the 1980s have given way to instant messaging and video conferencing. The globalization of the workplace and the growing interest in knowledge as a resource have also driven changes to business communication. Stiff and stilted dialogue has made way for more friendly and personal-sounding messaging.

“Every language evolves to reflect the current times and changing needs,” workplace communication expert Shirley Taylor said. “Today, the language of business communication has changed. We are speaking to our colleagues, clients, and stakeholders in a very warm, friendly, natural, relaxed, personal style. And it’s still professional, or at least it should be. It’s essential that our written messages should reflect this.”

For modern business leaders, learning how to embrace today’s language of business remains an essential task. Whether they’re communicating during board room meetings or in Online MBA classes, business professionals should learn how to choose the right words and say them at the right times.

Making an Impression with Words

Effective business leaders choose their words carefully, remove buzzwords and jargon from their vocabulary, and convey their thoughts concisely. They realize that words have the power to shape history, transform emotions, create actions, and change beliefs. Stacy Philpot, head of Deloitte Consulting’s Leadership Practice, said speakers should plan their words to connect with employees.

"The most impactful leaders are the ones who think about how they will energize their people," Philpot told Business News Daily. "They know what makes their people feel confident and likewise what drains their energy. Rather than talking about plans or tactical objectives, they are able to link their employees' current circumstances with some kind of opportunity or outcome that they will care about."

For global teams, connecting words with linguistic and cultural backgrounds is also important. A common phrase in the United States may be confusing, or worse yet, offensive overseas. Richard Stevenson, head of corporate communications at the e-commerce platform, said he had seen the disparity in action.

"I find that American and British talent thrives on very open and personalized feedback and an emphasis on development needs, while central European staff tends to relax more when there's a structure to feedback, numeric inputs, and reference to agreed goals and KPIs," Stevenson told Business News Daily. "Be prepared to wear different hats day-to-day and do experiments in order to bring out the best in each of them."

In essence, the continually changing language of business requires leaders who can approach their words with caution and care, and adapt their communication style when necessary.

Communication Essentials for Business Leaders

At the most basic level, there are 3 types of business communications, editors Gerlinde Mautner and Franz Rainer said in Handbook of Business Communication: Linguistic Approaches. They are:

  • Organizational

Organizational communication occurs mainly within a company or organization and serves the purpose of implementing or formulating strategy.

  • Market

Market communication is largely directed outside a company and is persuasive in nature to ensure the company meets the strategic objectives.

  • Public relations

Public relations communication is also mainly directed outside a company, but it also can be useful inside. The goal is to legitimize strategic objectives and garner a positive reputation.

In his book Business Communication, 3rd Edition, author R.K. Madhukar said some specific categories of communication also apply to individual situations, including:

  • Upward communication – Employee to supervisor
  • Downward – Supervisor to employee
  • Lateral – Employee to employee
  • Formal – Structured communication to follow company rules, policies, or procedures
  • Informal – Unstructured communication to allow for a casual exchange
  • Interactive – Via instant message, text, email, or teleconferencing
  • Supportive – Provides emotional support for speaker
  • Social – Informal and friendly communication including at social events
  • Grapevine – Informal communication that spreads rumors, suspicions, and opinions (also known as gossip)

Using the Right Words at the Right Time

Madhukar also said barriers that hinder or dilute communication can come from a variety of factors. “The barriers to communication in an organization context may arise out of authority structure, status difference, reporting relationship, culture, and background of individuals,” he said.

Madhukar said the barriers apply to all types of communication, written and oral, including:

  • Poor expression barriers

A poorly expressed message can result from disorganized ideas or an inability to present clear ideas.

  • Physical factors

Effective communication depends on numerous channels (telephone, email, instant message) being in sync. When the channels fail, communication does not reach its audience.

  • Human factors

Since people do not think or interpret information in the same way, information may be misinterpreted. In multinational corporations in particular, language and cultural barriers can lead to poor communication.

  • Faulty transmission

When the person who is communicating fails to express an idea or information accurately, the intended message is lost.

To overcome these barriers, Madhukar pointed out that there are essential skills for presenting information and effectively communicating.

“Effective communication calls for coordinated effort. Good communication like any other high-quality output is very much the result of hard work,” Madhukar said. “Good communication does not occur accidentally. It calls for proper planning, understanding of human behavior, choice of physical faculties and mechanical or electronic devices, and the organizational context.”

Tips for Effective Business Communication

Effective communication affects more than work outcomes. Indeed, Jeff Boss, a principal and senior advisor at N2 Growth and a Forbes contributor, said choosing the right words is a reflection of character. Words determine how the person speaking (or writing) them will be received, whether it be positive or negative.

“This has powerful implications for not only leaders but all of us,” Boss said, adding that professionals can take steps to ensure that a message is well-received:

  • Avoid negative contractions

Do not use negative words like can’t, won’t and shouldn’t. Instead, turn them around to positives, such as replacing the statement, “We can’t hit these numbers without…,” with “We can hit these numbers when …”.

  • Replace “try” with “do”

Words like “try” and “want” denote a lack of commitment and ambiguity. Instead, use definitive statements that express certainty.

  • Choose common words

Choose words that an average 8th grader would understand so all listeners can grasp the message. Do not use excessively long or difficult words.

In addition, business leaders who want to learn communication skills, along with other professional skills and strategies, should take high-level coursework through a Master of Business Administration program. At Washington State University, online MBA degree students study business communications and other essentials. Through the university’s MBA online classes, professionals advance their careers with the assistance of the nation’s leading experts.

About Washington State University’s MBA Degree Program

Washington State University’s Carson College of Business offers an Online MBA degree program that prepares graduates for the rigors of the business world. Students can choose from a general track or 1 of 4 concentrations—marketingfinanceinternational business, or hospitality business management. The University also offers each concentration as a 9-hour graduate certificate.

The program is completed entirely online, allowing busy professionals to continue their careers and personal responsibilities. The Online MBA program can be completed in as few as 22 to 29 months. For more information, contact Washington State University now.


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Workplace globalization: Handbook of Business Communication: Linguistic Approaches

The Changing Language Of Business: Shirley Taylor

Leadership Language: Why Your Word Choices Matter: Business News Daily

Handbook of Business Communication: Linguistic Approach: Communication Approaches

Business Communication, 3rd Edition: Types of Communication

The Leadership Guide To Choosing The Right Words: Forbes