- How Your Words Shape Company Culture
Receive infrequent tools, workshops and articles related to growing your business!
June 4, 2024

Let's take a moment to talk about something that's often overlooked in the hustle of running a company: the power of language. We're all guilty of getting caught up in strategies, metrics, and the bottom line, but have you ever stopped to consider how the words we use shape our reality and the culture of our businesses?

It's a concept that Brené Brown, a renowned researcher and thought leader, explores in her book "Atlas of the Heart." She drops this truth bomb: "Language is our portal to meaning-making, connection, healing, learning, and self-awareness. When we don't have the language to talk about what we're experiencing, our ability to make sense of what's happening and share it with others is severely limited."

Mind-blowing, right? But it's not just about personal experiences. The language we use within our organizations has the power to create a shared reality. It influences how our teams perceive challenges, opportunities, and each other. At the heart of it all are our company's core values. These are the guiding principles that define who we are, what we stand for, and how we show up on work. They're often boiled down to carefully chosen words or phrases that serve as the building blocks of our culture.

Take a company that has "innovation" as a core value, for example. By consistently using language that encourages creativity, risk-taking, and thinking outside the box, leaders can create an environment where innovation thrives. When phrases like "let's explore new possibilities" or "there's no such thing as a bad idea" become part of the everyday lingo, it shapes the collective mindset of the organization.

But here's the thing; language can also reveal where we fall short. If a company claims to prioritize "work-life balance," but you constantly hear things like "we need to hustle" or "sleep is for the weak," there's a disconnect between the stated value and the reality shaped by language.

It's on us to be intentional about our language and recognize its impact on our company's culture. Here are a few ways to make the most of this powerful tool.

1. Walk the talk - Use language that aligns with and reinforces your company's core values. This creates a shared vocabulary and helps weave these values into daily interactions and decision-making.

2. Encourage growth - When giving feedback, choose phrases that focus on potential and improvement rather than shortcomings. "Here's a chance to learn and grow" packs a more positive punch than "you're not cutting it."

3. Give props - Use language that recognizes and celebrates individual and team wins. Shout out specific actions or behaviors that embody your company's values and contribute to its success. I typically encourage my clients to use the "Headlines" portion of the Weekly Meeting to give shoutouts to team members. 

4. Flip the script - When faced with challenges, use language that frames them as opportunities for learning and innovation. Instead of dwelling on problems, ask questions like "what can we learn from this?" or "how can we approach this differently?"

5. Be inclusive - Watch out for language that may exclude or alienate certain groups. Use words and phrases that make everyone feel valued and respected, no matter their background or identity.

By being mindful of the language we have the power to shape a reality and culture that mirrors our deepest values and aspirations. As Brené Brown puts it, "Language has the power to define our experiences and, ultimately, who we are and how we engage with the world around us."

Let's pay attention to the words we choose. Do they align with core values? Do they encourage teams and create a shared sense of purpose Remember, language isn't just a way to communicate, it's a tool for crafting reality and building a strong, vibrant company culture.

author avatar
George Morris
I use my 20+ years of entrepreneurial experience and training to coach businesses on scaling up rapidly using Verne Harnish's Scaling Up framework. By doing so, my clients are more efficient and profitable, giving them the ability to make bigger impacts in the world. I deeply believe entrepreneurs are the best equipped to be the vehicle for meaningful change, and in the decade ahead, we'll see a substantial shift in how business is done. We'll move to a model where company purpose, impact, curiosity, and team health will be differentiators in overall business success. As Simon Sinek has pointed out, the finite games are the legacy of the past; we're moving to an infinite game.