I have recently moved back to the UK after 12 years living in Australia. One of the things that hit me when I arrived back in London was that I didn’t ‘speak the language’ any more, and that I’d have to learn to adapt my Aussie English back into British English. I think there are some interesting parallels with business communication…
‘I like your pants…’
‘I like your pants’ I said to a friend the other day. I registered the look of horror on her face as she frantically checked to see just how her underwear had become visible.
Within a second I realised that of course I should have remarked on how much I liked her ‘trousers’. In the UK, your ‘pants’ are what you wear under your ‘trousers’. One is on show, one is (usually, and certainly in my age-demographic) not.
A lighthearted example, and no friendships were damaged by my comment.
Adjusting my language
But it wasn’t the first adjustment I’d had to make – I’ve been (mostly) remembering to speak about ‘day-ta’, not ‘dar-ta’ and ‘roo-ters’ not ‘row-ters’ and inviting friends over for ‘pas-ta’ for dinner not ‘pars-ta’. I now buy my wine at the off-licence, not the bottle shop and I eat courgettes, mange-tout and aubergines rather than zucchini, snow-peas and eggplant.
I have to remember not to abbreviate everything: my car has a ‘registration number’, not a ‘rego’, medicine is dispensed via a ‘prescription’ not a ‘script’ and nobody would know what I meant if I said I was giving a ‘preso’ this ‘arvo’.
Why does it matter, you say? Surely everyone speaks differently, especially people from another country? Yes, that’s true. But in my case, although I have lived in Australia for many years, I am not ‘from another country’, I am from here, the UK. This is a move back home and I am keen to integrate and be accepted back as a local. So I want to re-learn how to speak like a local.
Speaking the language in business
There’s a parallel in business communication. If we want our customers to accept us as one of them, someone they trust, someone who understands their issues and how to solve them, we need to ‘speak their language’. In customer terms, it’s not a question of what you call your vegetables, but it might include:
- Having the knowledge and language to talk about the issues in their industry
- Showing you understand their aspirations and business goals
- Using the language of their company and their industry
- Avoiding using specialised terminology from your industry (or at least, not without explaining it first, or checking they understand it). This is an easy trap to fall into particularly for technology companies.
- Not using acronyms and terms and names of processes that are internal to your company
- Thinking about job titles – for example, a ‘business development manager’ is internal language to your company, it’s not necessarily a meaningful title for a client.
I’m sure you can think of plenty more examples, and if so, please do share them with me.
In the meantime, I’m just going to keep practicing ‘trousers, trousers, trousers…’