It's Not What You Say; It's How You Say It

If I brought up the old axiom “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know”, most of my readers would understand the line instantly. Sure (and I’m not minimizing this one bit!), what you know matters; without an expertise in … something … your business has very little chance of succeeding.

Something else that flies in the face of how many people think the world ought to work is the difference between what you say and how you say it. To go along with the what you know/who you know thing I’m going to come right out and say that it’s not what you say so much as it’s how you say it.

This is a nuanced statement, even more than the one about your acquaintances and knowledge. What you say matters. It matters a lot. But blindly believing that people can understand your meaning and subtext is dangerous.

I speak about this subject all the time. Truly, expecting that people “get you” at any but the most superficial levels is a dangerous way to communicate. Precision in speech, annoying though it may be for both the speaker and the listener, is important.

I could practically write a book on this subject. Today, though, I’m going to illustrate the importance of “it’s how you say it” by pointing to something simple. Let’s talk Grammar.

Don’t roll your eyes. I’ll bet you’ve clicked on at least one “grammar test” on Facebook; you think about grammar more than you might care to admit. Today, I have something simple to point at.

This article by Barry Schwartz is titled Danny Sullivan Joins Google Today: Will It Help The Search Community? I know Barry’s work, and it’s often written in ways that would hurt your Middle School English Teacher’s soul. I stared at that title for a good while, not sure what it said or whether I should click. Is there a product called Google Today? How had I missed it?

There isn’t, and I hadn’t. On October 9 Barry was saying that Danny Sullivan had joined Google’s employ, and that he’d started “today”. Even if you ignore the fact that on the Internet things get read … not “today”, the grammar of that title is atrocious.

It’s How You Say It

No really, it is. Believing that people understand what you say when and how you say it is a dangerous trap. And the results of falling into that trap can be dire for your business. The most innocuous version is a price misunderstanding. The worst is how people (might) interpret words with multiple meanings under circumstances that raise legal questions.

Or if you’re Barry Schwartz and you make a living manipulating words … well, sometimes the shoemaker’s kids have no shoes.

Put on your shoes. Lace them up. We’ll help.

It’s How You Say It.

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