We attack, take over, exploit, and compete in business. The word choices in commerce are both peculiar and notoriously aggressive.
We use it because it has always has been that way. Aggressive language is not only about gender dynamics, but also how businesses are not reaching their full potential.
A whole entire dissertation or podcast series can be made about this topic, but I am not going to speculate on the origin and the causes for the use of violent language in business. Rather, I want to point out how this aggressive language prevents us from collaborating.
Language affects the way we treat one another in business. Harvard Psychology Researcher, Steven Pinker, said it beautifully:
“Language is social. And when we speak we seldom speak directly. Human intercourse is not just about the exchange of information, it also entails appeals, requests and orders; as well as involving persuasions, bargaining, lying and diplomacy.”
Masculine words dictate how we interact and persuade one another. Traditionally masculine traits such as strength, courage, independence, leadership, and assertiveness all should have a place in business, but to an extent. Only having masculine language to describe business activity biases our approach and attitude towards one another in business. This might explain some of the complaints about businesses today. Businesses might, for some, seem to lack empathy to stakeholders, have a narrow focus, and prioritize winning. Thankfully, feminine language is slowly making her comeback into the business lingo: empathy, humility, awareness, and collaboration. Words like these push businesses to think differently, welcome change, and become more aware.
We might not fully understand the cause of this language culture, but we can be aware of it. Awareness allows us to choose instead of auto piloting. Sometimes, we need to be active and aggressive. Other times, businesses need to be more humble and attentive. A particularly brilliant woman, Helena Roerich, once taught, “Woman is a personification of nature, and it is nature that teaches man, not man nature. Therefore, may all women realize the grandeur of their origin, and may they strive for knowledge. Where there is knowledge, there is power.”
As a business community, we must learn to activate some traditionally feminine traits that have so much to offer in the business setting. The next time we write up a business plan or present, we should look at the words we use to describe the business activities listed; you might even have a breakthrough.