Why speaking your audience's language matters

August 5, 2018 Koffi Alain Sessi

Why speaking your audience’s language matters

There is only one way to accomplish anything in any organization: convincing stakeholders of why the suggested idea is good and how it will further the goals of the organization. I have spoken to more than one person who expressed frustration at the tediousness of the process and the uncertain outcomes that most often result from this exercise in persuasion. Inside organizations, people from various fields have to talk to each other. Cross-discipline conversations are difficult for many reasons, chief among them is the tribal language that every domain of specialty has developed.

Product managers have their own language, business people have theirs, and marketing folks equally devised their own. Audit any organization, and you will find as many dialects as there are departments. The powers that be in every organization hold each tribe to a particular set of goals. Competing and sometimes contradictory goals are not uncommon. Every time you listen to someone complain, it’s always about how the other departments do not understand how vital their functions are for the bottom line of the company.

It does not matter which departments are in discussion. Salespeople think, usually, that they are the engines that fuel the bottom line of the company. The marketing folks believe the same thing. The people who make the product argue that without the product, there is nothing to market or to sell. It may not surprise you to hear HR stakeholders say that if they don’t maintain the most celebrated culture, there will be no one left to create the product.

This “who’s more important” game may seem like a normal part of life in any organization. However, many great ideas have died premature and unnecessary deaths because of this tribal competition. The consequences of this apparent lack of appreciation for what others contribute are well known. My goal in this article is to make a case for learning how crucial it is for anyone who wishes to persuade people in other tribes inside their organization to make an effort.

The effort consists of learning and becoming fluent in the language spoken by the tribe one wishes to convince. Naturally, we only see the world through our own tribal lenses. We listen better when spoken to in the language we understand. If you can’t talk about your subject in the same terms a finance person will, you have a dead on arrival piece of a good idea on your hands.

While the idea may turn out every bit as successful as you may have thought, you are asking people whose job consist in ensuring that the company hits its quarterly numbers to leap with you into the dark and unpredictable waters of the unknown.  The only way this happens is if you are capable of speaking in terms that are familiar to your audience.

I can also argue that learning the language of the other tribes in your organization helps with personal growth. You will eliminate the frustrations that we see in cross-organizational communication. The price for not doing so is a massive loss in productivity, in talent, and finally in opportunity.

So next time you have to communicate with people who live outside of your organization or your professional tribe, I would advise starting by understanding the language they speak. Effective persuasion begins there.