Pop, Soda, Coke… Right Word = Getting Heard

When my husband and I were first married we moved three states away from where we had grown up.

And quickly learned that the carbonated beverages we had been consuming for our entire lives were not called POP.

  • In this place they were called SODA!
  • A few years later we moved south and learned that no matter what flavor of carbonated beverage we wanted to consume we needed to order a COKE – and then name our flavor of choice.

As we’ve continued to move I’ve kept a mental list of others…

  • When you throw something away do you CHUCK it or CHUNK it?
  • When you hold onto something have you KEPT it or KEP it?
  • Do you have a kitchen COUNTER or a kitchen BENCH?
  • Does your car have a HOOD or a BONNET? A TRUNK or a BOOT?
  • Do you cook with CORIANDER or with CILANTRO?
  • When you are talking about a friend that is not your spouse… Are they your FRIEND or your MATE?
  • When you go to the store… Do you use a shopping CART or a shopping BUGGY or a TROLLEY?

As fun as the game is – does it really matter what you call it?

A new neighbor was recently in a public setting and shared what she was going to cook for dinner that night. She was quickly advised not to use that term in public places as it describes a woman’s private parts in the local language. (A new learning for many of us.)

A few days later I was visiting with another friend about how terms have changed over the years.

  • In her day a THONG was a FLIP FLOP.
  • And a term that was once used to describe a race of people is now as much of a trigger as a term that is spoken with prejudice and hate.

Both ladies caused me to remember a time I was trying to lead a change from the middle of an organization.

I was about to meet with an operations executive to recommend a change that our team had been piloting for over a year.

  • We’d adopted a process that was costing the company more than $500,000 annually.
  • Transformed it into a process that was generating more than 1 Million in annual revenue.
  • And believed that if this process was successfully implemented at all of the locations in the company it had the potential to bring in nine to ten times that amount.

When I met with the executive, I used a word to describe the process that he could not relate to. (In his mind I’d just called a Coke a Soda.) His brain locked up and no matter what I said after that – he absolutely could not hear the how this process change could add value to the organization.

(…Yes I eventually found a term he related to, but change did not happen until I did!)

At another point in my career, I listened to people that had been sharing their needs for years and were beyond frustrated that they were not being heard.

  • When I investigated their concerns I realized that they were speaking the language of their business,
  • And they were trying to communicate to another business that had their own language.

So I created a short document that translated what they were trying to communicate into the language of the business they were trying to influence.

And then change happened.

In today’s world I hear people expressing how frustrating it is to have to be politically correct about everything.

I agree that it a lot of work to learn the way a part of the world uses a term, or how the meaning of a word has changed over-time.

But here’s the thing – If you want to communicate effectively with others… Ignoring or fussing against their norms won’t increase your ability to be heard or understood. And it definitely won’t help you create changes that support the greater good.

Choosing the right word means you’ve taken the first step to getting heard.

Change never begins out there – It always begins with the person you control – YOU!

  • Your willingness to learn their terms.
  • Your willingness to change how you communicate.
  • Your willingness to persist.

Your Turn!  iStock_000009905754XSmallWhat terms have you had to learn to communicate more effectively with others?

What more on this topic?

President, Giana Consulting

Chery Gegelman is an adventurer that loves to learn. ...Deep conversations, books, travel, and daily living are all food for growth.

As a speaker, facilitator and workshop leader she creates energizing environments that reflect God's grace, tear down walls, help people to consider new perspectives, and inspire change.

Chery is the Founder of Giana Consulting and Conversation Safari's, listed as a Great Leadership Speaker by Inc., writes a recognized leadership blog and has co-authored two leadership books.

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10 thoughts on “Pop, Soda, Coke… Right Word = Getting Heard

  1. Your message here reminds me of the how people’s names the spellings, annunciations, and someone remembering them are so important to them. Taking note of those seemingly small differences, adjusting and respecting them speaks volumes to people/businesse on their value to us! One woman I know gets out a notebook and unapologetically writes down the names of people she has just met, so she can recall them later and pray for them. Another lady I know refers to almost everyone she meets by their first name, everyone is important and cared for even if it’s a quick business exchange.

  2. Excellent post, Chery! I can totally relate to the “soda” and “pop” story. My husband is from upstate New York where everyone says, “pop”. When I first heard his family say”pop” I had no idea what they were talking about. I was a “soda” girl and “pop” sounded bizarre. But word choice is critical if we want to connect with others in a meaningful way.

    I have learned to listen very carefully to my clients on how they describe different challenges and take note of the words they use. I then try to pick up on those descriptions.

    Thanks Chery for a wonderful and interesting article to share!

    • LOL Terri! The longer we live away from “pop” country the stranger it sounds!

      …The first time one of my neighbors called a stroller a trolley and kitchen counter a kitchen bench I was just as lost!

      You are so wise to tune into those seemingly little words and descriptions. Do you ever feel the joy of a child that is on an adventure and trying to break the code? …Pretty cool that it also provides a higher level of service to clients at the same time!

  3. Hi, Chery:

    This one made me smile … partly with nostalgia, because I’ve had similar word meaning experiences around the country and abroad and partly because you have articulately reinforced a basic learning that leaders must get: Words Matter.

    Even more importantly, we cannot assume that our understanding of a word is another’s understanding. Your story about the organizational change thrown off schedule because you used a word that the other person interpreted differently proves this point is important.

    If reading this post makes even a few of us stop and consider our word choice, rather than blindly sticking to what we choose to use, you have done a good service.

    I’m sharing and saving this post, because I know I will be referring to it often:).



  4. Chery, This is so true! I was recently a bit taken back when an editor shared with me that I was really talking about management, not leadership. Now since at the core of my doctrine, I believe that leadership happens at every level, I was tempted to rant.

    A rant would have not served me well, and would have gotten in the way of me sharing my message. I could say everything else I wanted if I use the word “manager.” I agreed to change the word.

    I’m so with you… it’s often much more important to be heard than to fuss over wording.