Choose your words wisely

It is possible your words and phrases are blocking clarity, alignment and momentum. You might not even be aware of the impact.

In business especially, some words and phrases have been used for so long that we have made them biz-speak. Just how we business executives make our point. Yet, even if people like you know what you mean and your intent, people unlike you will not.

Notice the words you choose.

Here are four phrases I’ve been re-considering, and what we typically mean when we use them in a business context today:

Open the kimono, meaning to open the books; be transparent.

No dog in the fight, meaning no stake in the outcome; no relationship.

Drink the Kool-Aid, meaning committing to cultural norms without thought.

Grandfathered in, meaning to lock-in a price, rate, term, etc.

What’s the problem?

Let’s consider the source of these phrases, starting with Open the Kimono and Grandfathered in.

Open the Kimono references geishas and how they would open their kimono to reveal their naked body. This phrase can come off as racist or sexist. Even misogynistic. Women in business use the phrase also; it’s become that embedded. The intention of transparency is a good one. So why not simply say “be transparent” or “open our books.”

Grandfathered in comes from the days when former slaves were gaining the right to vote. But some states added a requirement that a slave could vote only if their grandfather had voted (and if so they’d be grandfathered in). But of course the grandfathers hadn’t voted. How about “legacied?”

And the other two?

No dog in the fight references dog fighting. Do you really need to speak words that reference animal cruelty?

Drink the Kool-Aid references a horrific killing of a cult population. We can do better than this.

If we are using the same language, doesn’t that improve clarity, alignment and momentum?


When using the phrases above, you have clarity only with people who think, speak, and relate to these phrases in solely a business way, like you. The words don’t improve clarity; it is only that clarity is not lost. But you are at risk that the communication will not land clearly and with the intended meaning when used with those not like you.


Using language that is inclusive can strengthen alignment, but for only the few that are in your executive circle. It becomes more about exclusivity than about including individuals in a diverse group. Notice when you are actually being exclusive rather than diverse, equitable and inclusive. It is the latter that is going to result in the alignment and momentum you need today in your business. Be a leader for today and the future, not a leader carrying forward the misdeeds of the past.


Shortening words into acronyms that all understand can move the discussion along, and even strengthen a feeling of connection. But, the four phrases I’ve pointed out are not reducing word count. Stop and think about how many you want to communicate with might actually be stalled or stopped by the words you choose.

Your best next step

For “Your 1 Best Next Step,” notice the words you choose. Ask someone you trust to nudge you when you use words you are trying to change.

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