The advertisement was promoting Mandalay Bay, an upscale resort in Las Vegas. I don’t remember the exact wording, but it said something like “At Mandalay Bay you’re not a tourist, you’re a resortist.” I immediately thought, “What a cool word — resortist.” And what a clever way to position their product offering.
When I hear the word “tourist” it conjures up images of crowded bus rides, two-star hotels, and cheap food eaten on the run. I see families with bored, whining kids rushing from one place to another in a frenzy to take in as many of the sights as possible. I see people trying hard to blend in with the locals while standing out like sore thumbs. And I see people looked down upon by the local inhabitants, and generally unwanted except for the money in their wallets.
But the word resortist suggests something entirely different! When I think resortist, I think class, elegance, and style. I see beautiful people lounging by the pool, playing golf, or leisurely indulging whatever strikes their fancy. Resortists enjoy fine wines, glamorous meals, and superbly appointed hotel rooms. They get welcomed with open arms and treated with expert care rather than contempt. Tourists get tolerated, resortists get pampered.
Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit here. But the point is that language matters. When one small word can change the way we think about a product or service, it behooves us to pay close attention to the language we use.
Language also matters in our organizations, especially in the way we treat our employees, customers, and other stakeholders.
For example, do you have employees or associates? Do you have personnel or team members? Do you have customers or clients? Do you have suppliers or trusted partners? Do you have satisfied customers or advocates in the marketplace? Do you say “my” team instead of “our” team? Again, small differences in word choice can make big differences in the attitudes and perceptions of people internal and external to your business.
Think about other common phrases heard in organizations. For example, “We need to cascade this down the organization.” Down the organization? Really? What kind of message does that send? Why not use more inclusive and empowering language, like “We want to engage everyone around this issue…?”
Both approaches basically say the same thing. But if you’re one of the people being cascaded down upon, which one would make you feel more respected, included, and empowered?
Here’s the real challenge for business leaders: you can’t just use the right language. You also have to live it. Your actions have to match the words. Otherwise, it creates a huge disconnect that destroys your credibility.
The classic example is companies that proudly proclaim, “Our people are our most important asset!”, and then treat them like so many disposable parts. Most don’t do it intentionally. They’re just running so fast that they don’t pause to look at the language they use or the disconnect between that language and their behaviors.
Language can even affect the quality of your meetings. Too often, most of what you hear in meetings consists of blaming the economy, complaining about the budget, and a litany of excuses for why things aren’t getting done.
Instead of lamenting about all the obstacles in the way, try asking, “When we are insanely successful with this project, what are we doing? What data are we using to make decisions? How are we working together as a team? What information, tools, and resources are we using to achieve the desired results?”
This shift in language prompts the brain to focus on solutions rather than obstacles. It helps you figure out the “how” of getting there rather than tripping over what’s getting in the way.
Most companies do this, but only once a year. During the strategic planning process we set goals and outline what it will take to win. But then we lose that positive energy because we don’t talk about it relentlessly and obsessively throughout the year.
So pay attention to the language you use and the impact it has on your people and your organization as a whole. After all, which would you rather be — a tourist or a resortist?