How People Describe Things

You can learn a lot by the way people describe things.

A former boss of mine told me that usually when people describe their pets, they are describing themselves. I wasn’t sure if I believed her until an old childhood friend of mine described his dog as “a big softie” — which was a great description of himself. I’ve heard other people describe their pets as being social or antisocial, or having other characteristics, in such a way that reflects more of themselves than the animal. (Why people eventually look like their dogs we’ll save for a later blog post.)

You can learn something by listening to how people describe the presents they give for birthdays, graduations, or Christmas. There are the people who want to fix other people, who describe presents like this:

I got my father a new shirt. He really needs one. His shirts are all getting old and he won’t get any more.

Normally these present-givers, so focused on fixing what they perceive as a problem, don’t realize the present-recipient has precisely as many items of clothing as they want. 

Other present-givers have a deeper interest in the recipient’s wishes:

I got her a book about lacrosse. She loves lacrosse. She’s been playing since she was 12. I don’t know what she’ll do with all this lacrosse now that she has graduated. I know lacrosse is important and it’ll always be, regardless of what else she’s got going on.

How people describe their jobs will tell you as much about their companies’ brands as the description of pets and presents will tell you about a person. If you want to know a company’s employment brand, don’t ask the company to describe it. Just listen to how people who work at that company answer the question, “what do you do?”

I listened to people answer this question at a Memorial Day party. That’s over, so listen during July 4 barbecues. You’ll learn what people really think of their employers.

On Memorial Day, one person described to me his job at a healthcare company. He mentioned what he did there, but also told me in the next sentence how critical the organization was to the local area, how much it meant.

Another person, a high school coach, immediately told me about the successful athletes who’d graduated and become college stars, names many Americans know as near-household names to a country that loves football. 

Another person, involved in the security business, was passionate about the ability of the company’s products to make its customers safer. Much safer, he believed, than customers of his competitors.

Another person described her job and company without making a real connection to how it helped its customers or made a difference to much of anything. Hearing about her dog would have been more interesting.

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