Why Word Choice is Important for Social Entrepreneurship

by S. Creastam

Word Choice

Small things influence big things. We don’t always see a direct impact between our small and big actions, but a ripple exists. In this world of opportunity and willpower, word choice is one of the small things we’re in charge of. Word choice is a small and intentional skill that could alter the way stakeholders receive your words.

Besides the literal act of choosing words to communicate an intention, this skill considers the who, what, when, and where of your interactions. Think about three people you know from three different settings. Here, you can think of these examples:

  • Family, friends, coworkers
  • Coworkers from three separate departments
  • High school friends, college friends, neighborhood friends

Conversations with these groups tend to match the person you’re speaking with right then. In fact, where you know each person will influence the dialogue; alongside the circumstances, you’re currently meeting them in. Social entrepreneurship reflects this experience of talking with separate groups of people, only, there’s an added layer of coordinating all the conversations.

In the best-case scenario, all conversations eventually align to the big picture of the initiative. The question: Where do we start intentional communication so we can present the big picture to each stakeholder group?

Technical Terms & Nuance

You ease into intentional communication as you’re mindful in conversations and remind yourself of the situations you interact with stakeholders. Surroundings and activities attached to your interactions cause what and how you communicate to change.

When working on social impact, many of your conversations include technical terms and nuance. Words are specifically designed with set intentions, but they also become mixed with industry, culture, and people’s life experiences.

Technical term in this case relates to jargon or any word related specifically to the situation.

Example Term:

“Last Mile” in Supply Chain/ Transportation: Refers to the last part in the delivery of a product or service to the destination or end user.

“Last Mile” in Prison: A program helping incarcerated individuals reentry society through business and technology training.

Comment: Despite the differences, the term represents the final step of a process before a transition in both industries.

Nuance in this case means definitions or connotations, whether personal or cultural.

Example Definition:

US Biscuit >> Fluffy & crumbly bread

UK Biscuit >> Crisp cookie

Bonus: The closest thing to bread like the US biscuit is what the UK calls a scone.

Example Cultural Connotation:

US “Thick” >> This term sounds like an insult to say someone is unhealthily overweight.

US “Thick” >> This term sounds like a compliment to say someone is curvy.

Notice: This is the same word used in the same country (US) that’s received differently depending on the person and setting.

Changing how you present and use words is part of understanding their different meanings across different industries, communities, or people. Learning this often comes from doing research beforehand or asking for clarification directly.

Why does this matter?

How you describe a problem to your investors is different then what you would focus on when talking with the community. You may end up using completely separate vocabulary for reasons like jargon, connotations, or having to speak on completely opposite topics.

Conversations with the community may sound more like slang, personable topics, and everyday examples. Then, speaking with leaders (whether in the community or within your team) may require more jargon and talking about trends in the big picture. Communication continues all the way to investors and advisors using words relating to data, transparency, and a high-level version of community stories.

Having Different Conversations in the Same Conversation

Imagine you ask someone a question and they respond, “Sure.” Some may hear it as just a yes/ confirmation, but someone else might hear it (receive it) as sarcasm.

Even if you have one intention behind it, someone could hear it and take it another way. They actually might not even hear the rest of what you’re saying after being stuck on or caught off guard by what they think you’re communicating.

It’s fairly talked about. Instances where two people are talking together but aren’t actually engaging in the same conversation. Their understanding of the conversation’s direction or focus differs.

Not long ago, social media buzzed with this clip of a well-known YouTuber experiencing an honest miscommunication and learning something new in the midst of it. The moment was clarified with humor and relief.

Let’s look at this real example from the interwebs:

If you don’t watch the video, here’s a recap of what shocked everyone in the first place.

(Go back to watch it for the nuances writing about it can’t capture. Seeing miscommunication in 3rd person allows you to take mental notes so that it happens less in your own life. (and Luke’s facial expressions are perfectly hilarious))

The viral video of Linus Tech Tips and co-host Luke starts off with Linus reflecting on ways people try to be more mindful of their word choices now compared to years ago. He specifically reflects on TV culture from the early 2000’s and shows using insensitive words casually. Linus gives American Dad using “the Hard R” as an example. He then goes on to say that he would casually copy that word, saying it when he was younger without thinking about what it is. That’s when co-host Luke, a longtime friend of Linus, went deeper into a pondering state and did something very smart… he asked a question to know which word Linus meant.

In the next moment, Linus and Luke realize the miscommunication. Linus used the phrase “the Hard R” for a word that starts with R and has been used as an insensitive reference to mental disability. Luke and the staff made Linus aware “the Hard R” relates to the N-word. As mentioned before, the mishap was set straight with relief and everyone joking about how chaotic the ripple effect would’ve been if they hadn’t cleared that up.

In this viral example, the two intentions clearly mean something very different as acknowledged by most people. Something like this may become trickier if it’s a conversation between just two people and the definitions are more based on their individual perspectives. It may help to clarify between the two what they are talking about and not get distracted by “which definition is correct”… simply clarifying the intention held behind what’s going on in the conversation.

Why Word Choice is Important for Social Entrepreneurship

One thing that might be good to wrap up with is a lesson shared about leadership. Many people have their definition of what makes a great leader, and one interesting answer out there mentions some leaders mastered the art of understanding who they are talking to in the moment.

For example, a leader may notice one teammate performs well when being pushed or given “tough love” advice while another teammate performs well when told exact instructions or given deadlines.  An adaptive leader maintains their leadership style and adjusts their communication to match what inspires each teammate to perform well.

Social entrepreneurship seems to be the same. You find yourself in a situation where you need to keep your core values and mission while adjusting the presentation of the big picture to different groups of stakeholders.

Having more intention behind your word choice helps everyone get to the same page which is important to make progress towards anything.

Word Choice
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