It’s late at night and my search and rescue team has just jumped out the back of a C-130 10,000 feet over the North Sea. My parachute has opened and while I’m coasting down to sea level, I get on the radio to check with the rest of my team to find out if their parachutes have also opened. Said very plainly, there is a lot happening at this time and the last thing I need is fluff in my communication.

Do you know how to answer a Yes or No question?

Did you start work on time?: “The traffic cleared up about halfway and I got here with one minute to spare.”

The answer is “Yes,” or “No.” My time in combat environments taught me the power of language during high-stakes operations. In fact, powerful direct language is critical in any endeavor when we are up to something beyond the everyday business-as-usual.

When I transitioned from the military world to the business world, I had the opportunity to work in a range of business environments. I could tell, by how they communicated to me and to each other, when an organization was up to creating a competitive edge, or, going through the motions as business-as-usual.

In organizations where it was business-as-usual, the language they were using was full of reasons, defending themselves, and blame.

Are you using the procedure for this process?: “It’s missing a lot of parts and I think that it is not well written.”

Did you complete the report?: “I did most of it but I need some final information I’ll be getting later.”

In organizations that were out for a competitive edge, the language they would be using was one of action and results. Using powerful direct language without all the reasons and stories that get in the way of what is to be accomplished.

Are you using the procedure for this process?: “Yes.  I also see updates that need to be made and I will have that complete by Tuesday, April 12 at 10:00.”

The more I paid attention to the words that were used in the everyday operations of the business, I could see a direct effect on the performance of the business, the quality of the work, and even the quality of the lives of those working for the business.

What language are you and your colleagues using to conduct business? Do you hear powerful direct language that drives action and results? Or does your organization use the language of business-as-usual?

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