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The Art Of Communication – Semantics In The Workplace

Written by: Will Soprano, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

Executive Contributor Will Soprano

Semantics can be annoying. Especially when used to belittle or marginalize people. But it can also be used to create trust at work. In fact, semantics in the workplace may be the underdog of techniques that foster psychologically safe workplaces.

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We’re talking about the study of meaning in language and how it affects the various aspects of professional communication. So what we say matters. The very precise details matter. Or rather the semantics. The devil may be found in details but life is found in the precise meaning underpinning the words we use to convey what we think, feel and want.

The impact of words on your team

We’re not just talking about people’s feelings or psychological safety, no we’re talking about bottom-line results. Want to improve your bottom line and team results? Then you might want to have a look at the use of semantics in your team’s communication.

Words matter, and they will impact your bottom line. They also have the power to frustrate, confuse and utterly demoralize your team if not used precisely. So let’s get semantic! 👇

Semantic barriers in the workplace

The barriers created within the workplace is the most commonly written topic regarding semantics. And while there’s some real value to recognizing communication barriers, it’s my belief that the barriers aren’t rooted in semantics but rather in delivery, tone, etc.

I believe that semantics are actually the root – the very thing that your communication is powered by. And so that’s what we’re developing: how to unearth the most vital parts of your communication to deliver precisely what your team needs to know.

Semantics is the underpinning of all clear communication

In the workplace, the consequences of poor semantics are not limited to this single example. Misinterpreted meanings can affect various aspects of communication, from misaligned project goals to confusion regarding job responsibilities. Therefore, paying careful attention to the nuances of language and ensuring that messages are clear and unambiguous is vital to fostering effective and productive workplace interactions.

For example, consider a scenario where a project manager tells a team member, "We need to improve our delivery time." If the semantics in this statement are unclear, it can lead to varying interpretations. Does "improve delivery time" mean delivering products faster or more reliably? Without the proper context or clarification, team members might take different actions to address the issue, potentially leading to confusion and inefficiency within the team.

What separates a project manager from the herd is one that will change the top-level verbiage but maintain the underlying semantics so that everyone on the team / within the org understands what is required, what is happening, and why.

Enhancing cross-cultural communication through semantics in the workplace

Understanding the nuances of language and cultural connotations is essential to building strong relationships and fostering a positive work environment in diverse settings. PRO TIP: All work environments are diverse settings.

It helps individuals appreciate the depth and complexity of language, encouraging them to approach cross-cultural communication with sensitivity and respect. For example, a word or phrase that may be considered harmless in one culture might be offensive in another.

Semantics in the workplace equips individuals with the tools to recognize and avoid such pitfalls, ensuring that communication remains specifically aligned to the work. In essence, semantics not only improves linguistic competence but also promotes cultural competence, leading to more effective and inclusive cross-cultural communication in the workplace.

The semantics of email, chat, presentations

You know your topic – and you know your audience. So well that sometimes you’re quick to reply, press send or share the goods. I bet that’s one of the things your team really likes about you. But if you want to be even more effective then remembering semantics before sending the email, chat, or presentation is vital.

Once you’ve hit pause you have the opportunity to ask yourself three questions:

  1. Is this written for the person (or people) who will read it?

    1. Will they understand it?

  2. Have I been specific in my request or goal?

    1. How can they misinterpret my words?

  3. Do I have one slide for each group in the presentation room?

    1. Does that slide deliver the exact information they need?

I’m not suggesting that we spend hours writing one email or reply chat. What I’m offering is that we remember the specificities that we are really trying to deliver in our communication so that we can unlock them and be understood precisely.

Leadership and manager communication: Get semantic!

Leaders and managers can significantly enhance their effectiveness by leveraging semantics. Semantics has even more importance when managers are communicating to those that work for them because if the manager is vague, so too will the work.

Clarity begats clarity

A deep understanding of semantics also enhances leadership skills when it comes to providing constructive feedback. Constructive feedback is vital for employee growth and performance improvement. Leaders and managers can use semantics to frame their feedback in a way that encourages growth and development rather than causing demotivation or resentment.

By using words and phrases that focus on specific behaviors or actions and by providing suggestions for improvement, leaders can create a supportive and constructive feedback environment, fostering professional growth, psychological safety, and maintaining a positive work atmosphere.

This nuanced approach to semantics helps leaders and managers cultivate trust and motivation among their team members while addressing areas that need improvement. In this way, a strong grasp of semantics is a valuable tool for enhancing leadership and management skills in the workplace.

Do you want to help your team to improved results?

I thought so. We all do, right? Semantics are the low-hanging fruit of improved communication that I rarely hear people talking about. Rarely do I hear someone talk about how they’re improving precision with their vocabulary, or realize how they weren’t as precise as they wanted to be.

The inefficiency is yours to benefit from. Your team will thank you, and so will your boss.

Learn more about Will Soprano on LinkedIn and his personal blog.

Will Soprano Brainz Magazine

Will Soprano, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

From writer to all things dev & tech Will has spent a lifetime trying, failing, learning and growing. In nurturing his ability as a writer he found that he had a knack for supporting software developers & connecting orgs across functions. As his career arc was hitting its first peak he found himself broken physically, emotionally, and professionally. That was the beginning of his personal growth. After years of trial and error he finally realized that sobriety was the answer. With nearly 4 years sober, he's not just a new person socially but professionally as well. The mental health community and his peers professionally have responded to his willingness to serve and authenticity.



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