Do words really make a difference? Can just one word change people’s perception of a person or event?
I’ve read several items lately on the importance of influence in leadership. Several even make the point that it’s the ability to influence that marks a person as a leader.
Personally, other than socially acceptable definitions, I don’t see a lot of difference between influence and manipulation.
Both influence and manipulation seek to produce an effect without any apparent exertion of force or direct exercise of command.
But if you say someone has a lot of influence it’s a compliment; call the same person a master manipulator and you’d better duck.
It’s a good example of the real power that words have to inspire or crush even if their meaning is the same.
And it’s important to remember that words come with baggage that goes well beyond their actual definition.
That baggage was one of the main reasons corporate marketing departments made so many mistakes when moving from one culture to another.
- Braniff translated its slogan relating to seat upholstery, “Fly in leather” to Spanish; only it came out as “Fly naked.”
- Coors slogan, “Turn it loose,” means “Suffer from diarrhea” in Spanish.
- Clairol, introduced a curling iron called the “Mist Stick” in Germany and learned the hard way that mist is slang for manure.
- Gerber started selling baby food in Africa using US packaging with the baby on the label until they found out that in Africa the picture on the label indicates what’s inside since most people can’t read.
There are hundreds of similar mishaps. They made marketing departments a laughing stock, forced companies to hire locally, helped change the headquarters mindset and encourage global companies to be truly global.
The point of all this is to encourage you to take a few extra minutes to think through not only what you want to say, but also what your audience will hear when you say it.
That effort can make the difference between going up like a rocket or down like a falling star.
Image credit: flickr