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What can businesses learn from the language of personal relationships?

I have a habit of calling people ‘darling’. It’s something I use when talking to good friends and casual acquaintances alike – even those I’ve only just met. Many people will respond in kind: I’ve been a ‘flower’, ‘muffin’, ‘honey’ and even ‘duck’ at times. Sometimes, though, my chirpy language is met with an awkward wall of silence. That gets uncomfortable.

The language that you use when communicating with someone defines your relationship with them. Some might say it’s the result of that relationship rather than the cause, but I’ve learnt that if I’m the one starting the conversation it’s important to try to judge how the other person wants to be spoken to. If I misjudge the atmosphere and call someone ‘darling’, they get uncomfortable and our friendship inevitably cools. If they smile and call me a ‘sweetheart’ right back, things look much more promising.

The same rules apply to business.

I’m not for a minute suggesting that the only way to appear personable and warm is to pepper your language with pet names or euphemisms. The idea is that you’re trying to engage with your audience through a genuine connection.

There are times when only serious words will do – when you want to appear authoritative, or reassure your audience that you know what you’re talking about. Strolling into a conference or event and calling everyone ‘pet’ is unlikely to convince your peers that you haven’t just snuck in without a ticket (unless you’re at Crufts, where most of the attendees will, in fact, be pets).

If you really want to get on someone’s wavelength, speak as they do. What’s fine with a ‘darling’ might not be the best way to engage those ‘whom it may concern’. If you’re not completely certain how to do that with your brand, why not ask us?

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