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    Be careful what you say

    Phrases are often casually thrown around in business, but what do they really mean? Gaynor Rigby discusses the importance of the words we choose to use.

    Call me weird, but I’m picky about the words I use. I listen carefully to the words that others choose when explaining themselves and things. Some call it pedantic, some would say observant…

    I think a person’s choice of words says a lot about them and their intentions, and I often wonder if what they’re saying is what they really mean.

    There are words and phrases that get bandied around in business and our industry that in my mind convey a very different message than what the speaker might have intended.

    Whilst even the best wordsmiths amongst us can’t cater to every point of view, here are a few examples that really do baffle me:


    ‘Client centric’ – Providing a service or product to a client is the whole point of a business. You can’t be in business and not be ‘client centric’, surely! Isn’t it just stating the obvious?

    Maybe what they are trying to convey is that customer service and satisfaction is a high priority.

    ‘Our business is like a family’ – Really? Do you not get a choice in who you hire? Do you put up with quirks, behaviours and capabilities? In all likelihood you don’t. Aspiring to a friendly and supportive office environment is a great thing and can be hugely beneficial to a business’s success; but ultimately a business is a business and needs to be run as one in order to stay productive, profitable and valuable.

    Hopefully what people are trying to say is that people have each other’s back at the office and that they care about their colleagues.

    ‘Ethical’ – Other than ‘ethical investing’ or ‘ethically sourced’ which are things in themselves, whenever anyone says they are ‘ethical’ it makes me dubious.

    Why do they feel the need to highlight that you do the right thing – dothey not normally? This places a bit too much emphasis on something that should really be part of our everyday lives and choices, not a consciously chosen USP.
    ‘No hierarchy/flat structure’ – This one sounds like chaos to me and doesn’t inspire any confidence that an organisation has got its shit together. Businesses need leadership: there needs to be someone in charge and people need to know who to go to for clarity, decision making etc. As a business grows you usually find that having one person as the one and only leader creates a bottle neck for decisions and direction, therefore the leadership team expands; teams get created and seniority levels start to appear. It’s a natural process.
    Are they trying to say that it’s a collaborative environment and that the team is empowered to take responsibility for their own roles? That sounds great! Or are they talking about how everyone contributes to business growth equally and each opinion is considered important? I hope so; in my experience these are signs of workplace culture developing.

    I think it’s no bad thing to aim for more straightforward messages, less marketing fluff and more honesty. My advice would be ‘say what you mean’ or pedants like me will take you to task, but perhaps you feel differently? Do you think that these messages, obvious as I might find them, are important to defining business values?

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