Language plays a powerful role in communication. Through the spoken word we receive instructions, communicate ideas, transfer knowledge and convey our feelings. Words conjure up images in our minds. Sometimes, through overuse, it becomes a habit to use some terms and phrases in spite of their being applied out of context.
Business is replete with such examples. Take a look at the classic phrase that adorns most company Mission Statements, ‘Our employees are our most valuable resources’, or ‘employees are our biggest assets’. In business speak the term ‘resources’ or ‘assets’ are used to denote inanimate objects or capital that is deployed in the pursuit of profit. Assets depreciate over time and usage. Resources get used up. A more humane manner of expression for employees could be ‘capacity’ as in – ‘Employees are our most valuable capacity’…. One constantly builds on ‘capacity and capability’ don’t we?
Another word in business that is used loosely and almost universally is ‘Exploit’; as in- ‘we will exploit the opportunity’ or ‘we will exploit their weakness..’. I too used the word similarly until an employee of an NGO sensitized me to the connotation of the word ‘exploit’- to ‘abuse’ or ‘take advantage of’ or ‘manipulate’ someone who is helpless and at a disadvantage. A better term would be ‘to make the most of’ or ‘to harness’ as in ‘let’s make the most of the situation’ or ‘let’s harness the opportunity’. Sounds better doesn’t it?
‘Target Audience’ or ‘Target segment’ is a term that we can do without. What image does the word ‘target’ conjure up in the mind? For me I see the sights of a gun, with the finger on the trigger, ready to shoot down the object in the crosshairs, right? I am sure prospective customers also see the same image when a company representative refers to them thus. No wonder most ‘Target Audience’ slip away out of sight (pun intended). Wouldn’t ‘desired audience or addressable segment’ make better sense? It also sounds nice as well as inclusive, doesn’t it?
I cringe when I hear the phrase, made to employees, to describe the launch of a Knowledge Management Program- ‘we want to capture your Tacit Knowledge’. I see it as a big turnoff to the participants- they then see Knowledge Management as a tool to ‘exploit’ them. Better response has been observed when we tell employees that the KM Program is an effort to improve their access to relevant knowledge when they want it.S2XQGV4Z9QQK
I am sure you too know of some phrases and words that need to be stamped out of the business lexicon. I would be happy to hear from you on this.