Use Concrete Language

Did you know that concrete floats? Maybe you did, which if so, then you may already know where I’m headed with this. But, I didn’t, at least not until I was halfway through university. My brother, who is a civil engineer, was in the American Society of Civil Engineers Concrete Canoe Competition, and yes, they did build a canoe, and yes, it was made of concrete, and yes–

It did float.

But what does that have to do with us, specifically, what does concrete floating have to do with using concrete language? And, to make sure we’re covering all bases, what do I mean by concrete language? 

Concrete language is exactly what you get. While the usage of “concrete language” is a metaphor, what it’s describing is a way of articulating and communicating things that cannot be misconstrued. Instead of saying “we have had a volume concentration”, you say “we have more work to get done in a shorter period of time”. Instead of saying “we lack resourcing capacity”, you say “we don’t have enough people to do [x] task in [y] amount of time.”

Concrete language is heavy. By being direct, by being to the point (and please don’t misconstrue that to mean lacking in professionalism or being rude), your language is heavy and by heavy, I mean that it sinks in. And, believe it or not, it also adds weightiness to your reputation, as well. Why and how? Because, then folks start to understand that you mean what you say (truth and directness have weight) and that when you say something is easy, it’s easy, but when you say something is hard or difficult or requires a second look, they react appropriately.

Concrete language “floats” (just like that canoe). We live, and work, in a diverse, global society. Things can get ‘lost’ in translation. I had originally started this article using the phrase “clear as mud” and then I thought to myself, pun intended, “that’s not very clear at all.” And for folks who English isn’t a second language, that may not mean much. And for those who are native speakers, but maybe aren’t good with metaphors or aren’t from a part of the country where that hits home, it still doesn’t mean very much. While metaphors and euphemisms have their place, it sometimes can be more helpful to be simple and direct. It goes a long way.

So, what do you think? If a few engineers can build a concrete canoe, can the rest of us learn how to use concrete language to improve how we communicate in our workplaces?

Remember, it floats!


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