The “blunt instrument” in your workplace: is it time to execute military language?

by Chloe Taylor02 Feb 2015
In a recent article, Andrew May suggested that certain words are inappropriate in the workplace. But he wasn’t referring to obscenities and expletives – he was discussing “war words”.

Examples of these include phrases like “smash through”, “killing it”, “guerrilla marketing” and “bleeding edge”.

These expressions, May said, are used without their connotations being considered.

“Do many leaders think we really are at war?” May questioned. “Have we replaced battlefields with boardrooms and P&L reports?”

Referring to a recent article in The Harvard Business Review, May expressed scepticism over the term “tour of duty” as a metaphor for employment contracts. 

Kamal Sarma, author of the internationally published book Mental Resilience: The Power of Clarity – How to develop the focus of a warrior and the peace of a monk and co-founder of the Institute for Mental Resilience, suggests that employers should rethink their “war model” approaches.

“Business was very much developed around war models, with war metaphors and words like deadlines and routing the enemy,” he said. “As a metaphor this is great, but it is not the right metaphor when you want to have great people who are highly engaged and driving value for the organisation.”

May outlined some of the words commonly heard in the workplace that should be considered, suggesting alternative options for managers:

‘Execute’ – ‘Implement’
‘Blunt instrument’ – ‘Using force’
‘War room’ – ‘Operations centre’
‘Militant’ – ‘Aggressive’
‘Burning platform’ – ‘Challenge’ or ‘Potential crisis’
‘Deadlines’ – ‘Deliverable’ 
‘In the trenches’ – ‘Experience’
‘Killing it’ – ‘Amazing Results’

“Start to take notice of how many war words you or your managers use on a daily basis and try substituting them for more positive, engaging words,” May suggested. “See if you notice a difference in the way you interact.”


  • by HW 2/02/2015 1:40:55 PM

    'With our words we make the World'... I have been arguing this approach for twenty years. The trouble is too many people have little awareness of how words can be used for best ( or least bad) effect in the context in which they use them. I blame Twitter, of course...

  • by grannybunny 4/02/2015 5:45:30 AM

    Please, anything other than "amazing" (or "awesome").

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