The Martial Arts of Language II

I also use a neat trick I call “identical differences.” It involves taking two words that many people assume mean approximately the same thing and differentiating them strongly, so that the other person says, “We’ve never considered that. We need you.”

Some examples:

Teams/Committees: These are entirely different structures, with the former requiring everyone to “win or lose” and the latter providing for some to win and some to lose. You can’t engage in “team building” with a committee.

Mentor/Coach: The former is reactive and situational, the latter is proactive and comprehensive. I can mentor a consultant, but no one has created the role of a baseball mentor for the team.

Preventive/Contingent: The first reduces the likelihood of a cause, the second attempts to minimize the effects of a problem. A sprinkler system is contingent, and so is an insurance policy. The fire marshal is preventive.

Problem/Decision: A problem requires a deviation from experienced performance with an unknown cause, and sufficient concern about it. A decision is a choice among options. Two entirely different starting points.

Oral/Verbal: “Verbal” communication is the usual umbrella for these, but that embraces everything to do with words. “Verbal” doesn’t mean “oral,” and it includes writing. These are two separate skills requiring two separate forms of development.

Strategy/Planning: The former is a picture of the future to which you aspire, the latter is an extrapolation of the present. Hence, “strategic planning” is an oxymoron, and a focus on planning will kill strategy.

You get the idea. You want the buyer to stop in place and consider the fact that this is “fresh air” and a new perspective, and needs to be heard and applied.

© Alan Weiss 2010. All rights reserved.

6 thoughts on “The Martial Arts of Language II

  1. Good technique Alan, one I’m going to think about and come up with my own examples that are likely to come up in my work.

    A nitpick: since when has planning been “an extrapolation of the present”?

    That may be what most people do when planning – but it’s certainly not what planning actually means.


  2. Ian, if you look at most organizations planning systems, they work from the present and explore how much growth, change, etc. is possible. Most planning is unexciting and worthless (and inaccurate).

    Jeff, get with the program, this is a post-Blackberry world!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.