Let’s make sure we’re all on the same page.

Words often have multiple meanings, largely determined by body language and context, though this is lost in most modern forms of communication. There is a lot of room for misinterpretation in this Internet era dominated by #generation where communique is distilled to emails, texts, and tweets.

Today, when there are far more emails than face-to-face meetings, it’s increasingly important to choose our words intentionally. Things like common definitions and thoughtful use of pronouns can go a long way, and we’ll explore how.


Always seek common ground

Even when we do choose our words carefully, it’s not always guaranteed that the other party is operating under the same definition as us. (Chris Coyier recently wrote an excellent article on the misuse of ‘introvert’ and ‘extrovert’, as a great example.)

For another example, let’s take a look at cops, policemen, 5-0, what-have-you. I don’t know about you, but most of the people I talk to have pretty negative opinions about policemen; granted, some of it is warranted, but some of it is crudely formed by media. And often missing from the common vernacular when referring to police is their true title: law enforcement officer (LEO).

Let’s dissect this a bit. A LEO’s main responsibility is just that: to enforce the law; this is not to be confused (which it usually is) with ‘people-protecting officer’, ‘peace-keeping officer’, or any other function that people would like to prescribe. Now, the law sometimes is created in aim of those goals, but not always, so invariably an officer’s actions will at times not be favorable to us, yet they are only carrying out their job. A lot of people expect them to be ‘people-protecting officers’ or the like, so when their experiences don’t match their expectations, they cry, “Pig!” However, if we all had a more realistic understanding of their role, I think that public sentiment against LEOs would be a lot more favorable!

How does this pertain to you as a marketer? As you spend most of your time in communicating online, the intentionality of your speech can make or break you. “By EOD” is a phrase I’m sure you’re familiar with, but have you asked whose day? This can become a larger problem if a client is in a different time zone and their day ends within an hour of you making your promise. How much trust could you lose from missing deadlines on your deliverables?

It’s even true of metrics. One client’s ROAS might be another client’s ROI; one client might want to factor COGS into the equation, and one might not. Always be sure you’re talking about the same things, or the best-laid reporting can go to waste.


There’s no “you” in “team”

Our choice of words doesn’t just affect our relationships with clients, but really in any human relationship. Consider the section above. Did it come off as a little stand-offish or assigning blame, with the use of “you”? Hopefully it did, as that was the point. Let’s revisit it with more inclusive pronouns:

How does this affect us as marketers? As ones who spend most of our time communicating online, the intentionality of our speech can make or break us. “By EOD,” is a phrase I’m sure we’re all familiar with, but have we asked whose day? This can become a larger problem if a client is in a different time zone and their day ends within an hour of us making the promise. How much trust have we lost from missing deadlines on our deliverables?  

Friendlier, yeah?  Dustin Curtis puts it like this: “Humans are social creatures and we’ve evolved extremely complex systems for social interaction with other humans…When we talk with people, we have a very constant, strict set of absolutes that guide us through sorting out our thoughts: There is me, and I am communicating with a series of other people called ‘you.’”

This can subtly create an us-versus-them mentality, when really our clients should be included in “us.” Same goes for intra-company communication–it’s tough to build a team atmosphere when people are thinking in “I”, “me”, and “you.”

Part of our company’s mantra is to be true partners with our clients, to treat their businesses like our own. And we have a very strong emphasis on internal teamwork and cooperation, which is especially important for a company with four offices and a slew of remote workers.

The reality is that most of our communication is, and will be, online. It’s important to stay mindful of little details and nuances that can have a huge ripple effect on the quality of our relationships.


Leave a Comment

Gordon Khoo
-Gordon Khoo joined 3Q Digital in Septermber 2011 after graduating from UC Davis three months prior. With a lifelong aspiration to work in advertising, Gordon was eager to put his Psychology and Communication studies into practice in the search engine marketing industry. Though his stature and workspace configuration suggest otherwise, Gordon can often be seen if you tilt your head back and look skyward – he’s an avid rock climber.