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  • Writer's pictureNola Charkos

What I’ve learnt about the power of language

Updated: Jul 16, 2021

How to write what you really mean…and how to make people respond!

Gargoyle in Paris

Everyone knows that we don’t always mean what we say. Sometimes we do this on purpose, like when we want to be sarcastic. At other times we’re trying to say something, but the words don’t come out properly. Worse still, we think the words are right, but the other person just does not understand or react the way we want them to. We’re left wondering “what language am I speaking?!”

When I was in my twenties, I was working in a big proper career job in Paris. I’d studied French for years. I even brushed up on it just before I moved there, to make sure I could do the job well. I was project managing a big program of events and I needed to get a lot of things done to make it happen. I had to do it all in French.

My French skills were fine. I would go so far as to say they were very fine. But for some reason, I was not getting through to a lot of people.

I had this recurring experience of emailing other people with a simple request, yet they would never actually do what I asked. These were not complicated requests. I was asking things like “Can you please send me that list of contacts we discussed”, or “Can you please make the introduction that you agreed to”.

I was confused. I checked my French. It was all correct. It wasn’t rude. The emails were being received. So why was nothing happening?

After a while I was sick of being perplexed. I needed to get stuff done! I started looking at what all my Parisian colleagues were writing in their emails. What I worked out was that they were using some kind of formula. The words they were using had essentially the same surface meaning as mine, but they had a deeper persuasive meaning when put into their formulas. And they were getting things done.

So, I started to copy them. Fake it until you make it. After a while I didn’t need to copy, I had figured it out and was finally getting things done. This was beginning to be fun. People were reading my fancy French formulas and taking the action I wanted them to. I quickly came to love that there were so many ways of writing a message, and yet there would be one combination of words that would be the most effective.

As it turned out, I loved that job in Paris, and not just because of the croissants. I learnt so much about the power of influence. What began as sheer frustration in a foreign language soon turned into affection. And I managed to turn that big project into a roaring success as a result.

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