Very Specific Rules for Better Communication

By Lindy Earl

          Vernacular is an old fashioned word, rarely heard today, but I still use it.  The definition of vernacular is plain, everyday, ordinary language (, definition number five).  It’s the common man’s English, which is ironic that the word itself is not in plain, everyday, ordinary language.

          Why is it important to use appropriate vernacular?  Like everything else in business, it comes down to attracting, getting, and maintaining clients.  If you speak above the people with whom you work, you might be thought a snob or unlikable.  This can cost you a job and/or a client.  If you speak at too low a level, your intelligence may not be showing, thus you again may lose a client.

          You therefore want to match your grammar and vernacular to clients.  I even match my accent to my clients—not intentionally, but it happens, and I’ve heard it with others, too.  My southern accent simply increases when around southerners.  Now, since I have never had an English accent, I don’t use that accent when around others with an English accent, just the southern.

          When it comes to grammar, I’m not suggesting you lose your academic background, but you may be able to loosen up on some of the more rigid rules.  You still need to be very careful, because bad grammar may make you sound uneducated and less intelligent.  Then again, it may help you fit into the group. The rule that sentences should not begin with a conjunction can be trashed after school. Writers do it all the time. Look for sentences that begin with the word however. They are out there.

          So how do we achieve the appropriate vernacular?  Listen, study, learn, and practice—just like anything else.  If you wanted to learn how to play an instrument, you would listen and watch the options available, and choose your instrument.  You would then study, possibly with an instructor.  Lessons and practice will help you learn until you are proficient.  The same is true with learning the vernacular.

          I’ve said it often, the Lord gave us all two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we speak.  So when I’m in a new environment, I listen first.  Look for physical clues of posture and eye contact, and listen for word usage, accents, and idioms.

          When to start this?  Immediately.  As soon as you arrive in the parking lot, watch others—their dress, posture, and style.  Don’t eavesdrop, but in your own conversations, pay attention to how casual or formal the speech is.  This is important for anybody in your firm who comes in contact with clients, not just you.

          When speaking with someone, use the highest title you know, until they ask you to speak to them on a more personal level.  So use Mr., Mrs., and Dr. until invited to use a first name, especially with your elders.  I know some people dislike this idea, but it’s always better to err on the side of caution.  Some titles (Judge, Professor) never go away.  Use complete names unless invited to use a nickname.  Learn pronunciation ahead of time if possible, if not, confirm the pronunciation as soon as possible.

          On your side, speak slowly and distinctly.  Use good eye contact and speak loudly enough for people to hear you without interrupting the group next to you. 

Do not speak of things everyone doesn’t understand. For example, an incident from a previous event, if some of the people in your group are first time attendees. It could make newbies feel excluded and you sound cliquish.

          Do not use jargon unless everyone is in the know.  Realtors do it when discussing ARMs and IT people do it with a RAM and more. Eventually these words come into more common usage, but unless everyone in the room knows your jargon, avoid it.

Do not try to show off your intelligence, just be yourself.  Don’t fake an accent to fit in, make a joke, or be negative to some group—it will hurt you more than any laugh you receive now.  Never talk down to anyone.  Don’t tell or reference dirty jokes, even if a client does.  And never make any disparaging comments regarding race, gender, or anything.

          Some basic grammar rules, spoken and written, need to be learned if you don’t yet know them.  Learn correct spellings of words (succeed versus secede; accept versus except), and correct usage of homonyms such as to, too, and two; your and you’re; and there, their, and they’re.  Learn how to use prepositions correctly.  Learn what an adverb is and use them when describing your verbs.  They’re easy!  Just add an ly to your adjective.  The girl doesn’t run quick, she runs quickLY.  It’s amazing how much more intelligent you sound with a few basic rules.  Let’s keep going.

          Less measures weight, fewer measures numbers.  Therefore, there are FEWER people in one line than another, NOT less people.  The grocery signs should read:  10 items or fewer, not 10 items or less.

          In writing, pay attention to syntax, grammar, and spelling.  Use short sentences.  Don’t, do not, use contractions in formal writing.  If handwritten, be sure it is legible.  Use paragraph breaks correctly.  Use bullet points and subheadings for visible clarity.

          In contracts, be careful of legal language that renders something hard to understand; make it as understandable as possible.  Avoid repetition.

          In billing, write the bill clearly (not clear).  If possible, add your numbers in two different columns, so they are double checked, and the client can see that.

          In general, to improve your vernacular, use common words, use appropriate hand gestures and body language, familiarize yourself with the industry’s jargon, learn pronunciations of names, use appropriate titles (Doctor, Professor, Mrs., Pastor), reference well known current events to support your work, use appropriate pauses (verbal commas), and know your grammar. Does that help?

Lindy is a Business Consultant and Speaker. Please contact her today toat