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Let your language do the work

by Nicole Gauger

When you come back to work after the summer holidays, remember to bring your language skills with you! Language is an important tool for conveying your message, far too important to – figuratively speaking – leave behind on holiday. This applies to all of your business communications. The right type of language will build trust and influence purchasing decisions. But what is the “right” language?

Communications strategist Dr. Karsten Bredemeier has developed the concept of “factscinating language” (“faktizierende Sprache”), a portmanteau of “facts” and “fascination” which you really should start using. The example below, a style which you’re sure to have seen at least once before in your life, shows what this concept looks like: “Our product can probably be adapted to met your needs. Our solution can then optimise your processes. We think that will work and are prepared to implement these requirements.”

Forbidden language

Connoisseurs of the cliché will be delighted and appalled in equal measure to see a paragraph like this. They are non-binding and leave plenty of room for interpretation. It starts right from the first sentence: “can be” is a passive construction which doesn’t specify who is taking action, and “can” in particular is a verb which represents possibility rather than reality. Together with “probably”, the whole thing becomes totally non-committal to the point of suggesting it may not be possible at all. “Our solution can then optimise your processes” makes no statement about what solution will improve what processes, how or to what extent. And to “think” something is very different from to “know”. “Prepared” says nothing about when the work will produce results. The result is that the statement simply seems untrustworthy.

A much better formulation would be a factual one. Something like this: “Our colleagues in the development team will adapt Product XY to meet your needs, improving your invoice-processing times by 20%. We will present our solution to you in two weeks’ time and are convinced that it will work as expected.” Here there is no wiggle room: these sentences communicate concrete messages with persuasive potential.

“Tone of voice” as a guideline

Words have enormous power to evoke emotion. As a result, they can have a direct influence on how your brand is perceived. Some companies are already aware of this and have laid down an in-house tone of voice. This defines how language is used to communicate a business’ vision and views, influencing in particular a writer’s vocabulary, level of formality and grammatical choices.

For example, if you want to create a sense of partnership, use the pronoun “we” instead of impersonal terms like “company” and “customer”! Words like “together” and “jointly” will strengthen your message. If you want to sound contemporary, keep your vocabulary simple: say “use” instead of “leverage” and “affect” instead of “impact”. For a relaxed feel, throw in a few contractions or some more casual turns of phrase. If you want to inspire, use active, imperative or superlative constructions and include emotionally engaging terms like “drive” and “motivation”. If you want to appear trustworthy, avoid weasel words like “maybe” or “probably”. Keep technical or specialist texts clear of buzzwords and superlatives. Keep your sentences short for faster reading.

In other words, it’s high time you started thinking about how you want to appear – and how you want to communicate with others. As you come back from holiday, use your renewed energy reserves to develop a winning linguistic style! If you have any questions, we’re happy to help.


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