Have you been somewhere, and just felt like you didn’t fit in?
Like you’ve got no way of orienting yourself around a certain bunch of people. You can sense that there’s a set of unspoken rules and norms- but you’re not sure what they are. You may feel paralysed and not sure of what to say. You feel like you’re constantly saying the wrong thing (without knowing what it may have been), because you notice people’s stiff fidgety body language, & people’s eyes darting around as they speak to you- trying to find an excuse to exit.
Some would call this culture shock, but it can happen around those in your own city or neighbourhood, and around those with the same ethnic makeup as you.
I had such an experience yesterday that got me thinking a lot about times and place I have felt like this, and lost a bit of sleep trying to figure out why this was.
I had an old friend announce she was coming to town in a couple of week’s time, and wanted to get the old gang together for a shared pot luck dinner (we were all friends at high school). Sounds innocent enough. But then there were the words that sent me into an instant panic: BYO Dish (Vegan friendly welcome).
Which was strange given I think it’s pretty weird that it’s normal in our society to kill and control other creatures for our own purposes. I’m all on board with Veganism.
But it wasn’t what the word meant- it’s what it represented.
It reminded me that I was going to be attending a dinner with a bunch of people who are morally superior (in my head at least)- an intimidating prospect for me given I’m not one to shy away from unpopular, and at times politically incorrect opinions if I feel it to be my truth, or that the factual evidence proves otherwise. I can’t just go along to get along with things that I don’t believe to be true. It feels false and slimy.
It’s not just this, it’s the whole scene. Domesticated civility with everyone’s partners, healthy meals, the congratulatory discussing the ticking off of society dictated life milestones (the degree, the OE, the marriage, the house, the kids etc), ugh. It all just feels a bit too Stepford Wives for me.
I feel like my presence is offensive to the group, and taints their crisp white sanitised soiree with vulgarity.
I feel judged.
And when I really think about it, I tend to have a natural aversion to anything sounding a bit too goodie-two-shoes for the same reason. Clean diet and exercise products, ‘supportive’ and ‘caring’ events, ethical fair-trade silk made by Japanese virgins. And of course Vegan food.
What’s this got to do with business?
In the same way the word ‘Vegan’ stirs up feelings of cultural alienation in me- despite actually thinking Veganism is a good idea, the words you are using in your business, or even in your entire industry may be alienating some of your customers.
But consider the reverse- with just words alone, you may be able to speak to a part of your audience that no one else is speaking to, if you can find a way to speak to them on their terms.
That alone could make your competition irrelevant.
It happened to me- I was changed through the power of words.
If there’s two things I thought I’d never do, it was going to see a counsellor, and getting nutrition advice.
For years I just figured these things just weren’t for me.
They talk about ‘finding balance’ (what does that even mean?!), ‘nourishment’ (isn’t that just eating healthy, but with a smothering overly attentive mothering spin to it? Uh, that sounds kinda overbearing. I don’t want things to be too serious), talk of depression or anxiety (hey, we all have ups and downs and that’s normal right?), and I didn’t quite get the logic how talking could help cure me- I talk all the damn time anyway. Plus, I’ve been a ‘media approved’ size most of my life, eat okay most of the time, and therefore don’t feel any pressure to go on a diet.
It just didn’t seem like something I even needed, or even if I did, it came across a bit woo woo that I felt I wouldn’t get anything out of it.
It wasn’t until it was put in my language that I even considered going to see a health coach (for both mental & physical health).
“If you’re not able to get to sleep, and you’ve tried everything else why not just give things a go?” was how it was put.
Fair enough. Can’t argue with that.
Then when I got there, we discussed my situation a bit, before I started asking questions about how it actually worked. How was all this talking stuff supposed to cure my sleep?
“Well, we can develop behaviours and ways of thinking when we’re under stress, but these can become habits that stick once we’re no longer in the stressful situation from which they came. So we need to retrace your steps back to when some of your more unhelpful habits came about so that we can pick apart the situation back then, to really understand your habits, then replace these with other behaviours…it appears you’ve got a whole lot of these going on which are stressing you out, and not letting your mind shut down at night to go to sleep. Plus there’s a few things you could be consuming less of to help here too.”
Sounds logical. Let’s do it!
So I did. And my sleep was greatly improved.
But if it were never explained in a way I could understand, I would never have done it.
And who knows, maybe there’s a whole bunch of others like me out there, who would otherwise be interested in such a service if it were only explained in our language. If there is, a company that was able to do so may very well be able to tap an entire market that no one else is touching. And they wouldn’t have to compete with others offering a similar service.
All it would take is choosing to use a few different words.