Watch your language

How choosing our words wisely leads to better work

Words are Hard her image
Image Credit: Alice Lee

In The Achievement Habit, Stanford professor Bernard Roth details how “word swapping” — a technique that replaces inherently negative words with positive ones — ultimately transforms our mind-set. For example, Roth suggests replacing “can’t” (a word that denotes impossibility and helplessness) with “won’t” (a word that implies choice). “I can’t code” becomes “I won’t code,” acknowledging agency rather than impossibility.

Our language choices, whether through tweet, text message, or even release note, deeply affect our daily attitudes. Here we’ve collected some of our favorite posts that explore the upside of taking greater care in our everyday communications.

1. Your brand is your culture speaking to the outside world.

Why is it that products for people, by people, rarely sound like… people? Let’s face it, words are hard. Here’s how we came to find our voice at Slack.

2. Writing algorithms requires mastery of coding languages — and human languages.

Today we code for machines that serve people — and so programmers have the very important task of creating for people of all backgrounds. Machine programmer and author Ellen Ullman talks to us about “invading the closed society where code is written” and makes a case for why programmers need the humanities to write algorithms.

3. Localizing a product is about more than just translation.

The meaning of a word can get lost in translation across different cultural contexts. That’s why products must be localized and not merely translated: In order to build for diverse people, it’s necessary to understand them first.

4. The meaning behind what is said changes depending on where it’s said.

Digital etiquette is often eschewed in favor of convenience. Daniel Post Senning, author of Manners in a Digital World, walks us through when it’s OK to send a text and when we should break out the pen and paper.

5. How conflict arises is often beyond our control, but how it is resolved is not.

Compassion is a choice, rarely an instinct. Julie Elster, an accounts receivable assistant, explains how, along with choosing one’s words carefully and having plenty of persistence, compassion in conflict resolution may be counterintuitive but is surprisingly effective.

6. Unicode recognizes emoji as a language. And so do we.

Arguably the heart of digital language, emoji add much-needed human context to otherwise flat text conversations. In Slack, emoji don’t just allow people to be more expressive. Features like reacji — emoji used as reactions to messages — can also help people communicate more efficiently.

Technology may have altered how we communicate, but the intent behind our words remains important. Whether it’s as simple as changing our can’ts to won’ts, we should never underestimate the impact of the language we use.

Hairol Ma thinks in three languages: English, Chinese, and emoji. 

Slack is the collaboration hub, where the right people are always in the loop and key information is always at their fingertips. Teamwork in Slack happens in channels — searchable conversations that keep work organized and teams better connected.