I Said, Do You Speaka My Language?

Whoa! Did I just use an old Men at Work song as the subject of this email? Yes. I. Did. For some folks who receive this, they’ll think, “Um, what?” For others, they’ll remember the song, smirk a bit, and then have that song stuck in their head all day. Powerful, right?

Pull up a delicious drink of something. Me? I’m having a huge Batman-shaped mug of coffee (thanks for the mug, Paula!).

In the “duh” department, I want to offer a point: language choices are very powerful. My favorite ways to use language is to show a connection to the culture I’m addressing. For instance, when I write a British person (Hi, Peter!) and say “I’m chuffed” about something, I know that he or she might on some level be chuffed right back that I know the expression and chose it as a sign of connection.


Julien Smith and I wrote about this in The Impact Equation and in Trust Agents before that. We’re both interested in the concept that knowing certain language helps people mentally connect with someone else faster. For instance, if I see a “26.2” sticker on a car, I know the person is a runner. If someone says “Roll 1d20 for dork save,” and you understand that phrase, you failed the save. (If that made no sense, skip it.)

It’s hard to use language that makes sense to everyone, although pictures certainly help in that regard. I push the use of visuals and photos quite often for this very reason. Seeing someone’s face helps build trust, as well (presuming you have a trustworthy face!).

Visuals, it turns out, are really powerful ways to connect. I love this post by Arik Hanson about the topic. He helps brands understand how they might better use Instagram, for example, and I agree.

Are there visual ways you could be communicating more with people to help build in more trust?


I’ve taken to using the word “Monchu” to talk about extended networks of value. Not a big fat jumbly network of people you know, but the list of people you think matter to you. Not your customers, per se. Not your colleagues. People you want to hold a little closer in your mind than others.

The word “monchu” is an Okinawan word that means extended family or chosen family. It’s not Japanese, interestingly, but specific to the Okinawa region. I love it because it is a word that people don’t know, but once I explain it, it’s easy to say, easy to grasp, and fits a specific usage really well.

That’s the contrast principle in action (also part of the Impact Equation).


You know where I really saw a big change in language use? When I started adding humorous elements to my speeches. The moment I started telling jokes and making crowd-specific references mixed in with nostalgic moments that others in the room might have shared, I learned just how much people could lean into an experience.

There’s a vast difference between me saying that I was a nerd growing up and saying that I loved “Lost in Space” and Commodore 64 computers, and AOL back when I had mail. One is a label that may or may not spark a reaction. The other most definitely sparks a reaction.

How can you pull people into a story or a presentation or an email newsletter? Say something that tugs on a memory. If I talk to you about what it was like preparing for school every September, and what the best and worst parts of “back to school season” were, I bet you have a story. You can hit reply and share it with me, if you’d like. : )


I’ll tell you three things I know without question:

1.) Knowing someone’s name is magically powerful. Using it or sharing it or mentioning them or praising them are all great (provided you’re earnest).
2.) If I can figure out your language, I’ll get a lot closer to figuring out how to help you. (BTW, the phrase “master your language” from the Tricky song, Christansands, is running through my head. Might as well share that.)
3.) People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel. – Maya Angelou.

And this one ran a little long. Sorry to keep you after school. Wishing you a magical week ahead.

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