The recent horrible shooting in Tucson, Arizona and the subsequent questions asked by the media and public figures about language got me thinking about the words we use in our business conversatioBusiness, war and languagens. There are so many analogies and words we use to describe the competitive nature of business. There is a segment of business who see the practice of planning and strategizing as if they are planning to go to war with their competitors.

Is this true for small business? Is it really true for any size business? Let’s be very clear…if you are in business, you are in competition with someone. In some industries, this competition is fierce and other companies will exploit any weakness you may have. But is this war?

War includes carnage and destruction. Read books like On Killing by Dave Grossman or All Quiet On the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque to get a better picture of what war entails. When you talk about your market or your competitors, are you seeking to destroy them or just beat them? Leaving a trail of destruction seems to be antithetical to running an ethical business. Yes, I know not everyone has the same value system but destruction? This is a desired result?

Language makes a difference. Take for example, the word, target. If you look at most of the definitions for this word, it involves something to aim a weapon at or hunting something or someone. We often describe our most ideal clients as our target market. Are we really hunting them? Are we aiming and shooting something at them? Even the word, strategy, has military connotations primarily. So, if you are considering that business is really some masked war we wage upon each other, then the way you will implement your business plan is a series of attacks on your competitors and preferred clients.

There is a growing movement within business that is seeking an alternative. Instead of targeting their ideal customer as a form of prey, businesses are seeking to develop relationships. Recent sales training adaptations focus on listening to your prospect and answering their concerns. Even some businesses are seeking collaborative relationships (not mergers) with their colleagues. Dan Pink in Drive and his other work focuses on our desires for autonomy, meaning and purpose. Seth Godin is encouraging us to start our own Tribe. People are not willing to tolerate the old way of “command and control type” of leadership in business organizations. This style is  necessary in military organizations but they have a completely different mission than a business.

Language matters. I talk about this a lot and I have focused mainly on how we talk to ourselves. However, it is time to  think about how we talk about our businesses, our goals, how we want to achieve them and our competitors overall. What would happen if you changed your use of “target market” to “desired market”? Pay attention to how you talk about the position of your business, your competitors and your customers. Is your lanaguge action-oriented in a combative way or a competitive way? Are there words worth keeping?

There is nothing wrong with being highly competitive! If you want your business to be successful, it is important to get into action and work hard using highly effective practices and the best technology you can afford. Maybe it’s more of the idea of “playing hard and playing to win.” The trouble with taking a combative stance with your competitors and your customers is that you bring that style into every aspect of your life. Being on guard becomes a habit in speech and behavior.

What words do you find in your business vocabulary?

What happens if we reject the “business is war mentality” and think about competition in a different way?