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The language of Business. What do your documents really say about you?

Your people are not “human resources”, they’re human beings.


The HR influencer, and founder of Disruptive HR, Lucy Adams, writes about “employees as adults, consumers and human beings.” Its well worth reading what she has to say in “HR Disrupted and “The HR Change Toolkit” and we’ll probably return to this theme time and again, but for today I just want to focus on one element; the language of business.


The way we use language changes the way we think. American linguist Benjamin Whorf and anthropologist Edward Sapir are known for separately making the hypothesis of linguistic relativity. In brief, the idea is that language influences cognition, or more strongly that it determines and limits cognitive categories. This means that, to at least some extent, the way in which we speak changes how we think or feel.



So next time you read your own company’s employee handbook, or policies or your employment contract, look beyond the substantive provisions. Take some notice of the tone, the language, the spirit of the prose. Do these documents impart what you really want them to?


When we review documents with clients, the review of legal clarity and precision is just the starting point. You don’t just want your documents to stand up in a court of law. We find that far greater value is added through the consideration of the subtext. What do your documents really say about you?

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