Words have power. They carry meaning, create connections, anchor in cultural context or bring a negative charge. However subtle, they can generate reactions and reinforce stereotypes.
In a post a while ago, I spoke about the powerful reactions that words can have. Here are a few examples: “assertive” versus “bossy”, “risk-conscious” versus “risk-averse”, “victim” versus “survivor”, “bachelor” versus “spinster”.
But the ones I want to focus on are: “money” versus “finance”. And I’ll add one more: “profit”.
If we examine them in turns, each one of the 3 is used in different circumstances and conjures up different emotions or reactions in people.
- Let’s talk about making money
- Let’s look at profit strategies
- Let’s discuss finances
For the fun of it, try it on for yourself before you read any further. Assign an emoji to each of these sentences. You can share it with me, if you like, or keep it to yourself.
It is worth mentioning at this point, that I have used all 3 sentences in the past, to discuss the same thing: a particular financial situation along with all the good and bad attached to it.
The word money has an ambivalent connotation. Depending on the context its being used in, the person hearing it, or the person using it, it can be both negative and positive. If the context is to “make money”, the association is positive. The feeling associated with that behaviour brings anticipation and excitement.
The word profit leans towards a positive association, because there is typically no talk of profits, in the presence of loss or financial instability. Of course that’s not at all true realistically speaking, but as far as meaning goes, “profit” elicits a positive response from people.
Finance is the grown-up version of the 3. Finance is commonly employed in corporate parlance, typically associated with serious people dressed in suits. It has a more negative connotation and it prompts feelings of intimidation, boredom, shame or inadequacy.
Now that we can see what each word has to offer, how do we go about challenging these perceptions?
In reality there is no discussion that involves money, profits or finances without talking loss, debt, costs, budgets, projections and targets. The entire financial landscape of a small business is scattered with positives and negatives. In order to represent an accurate picture and prepare plans for a healthy financial future, we must look at the picture in all its detail.
It does make the battle a bit harder when the initial reaction is to retreat from the conversation. I’ve witnessed it with a few of my clients, as well as in different professional circumstances. I know that the word “finance” is not easy to stomach. I also know that the “chief financial officer” title can have unfavourable perceptions especially to entrepreneurs.
How can broccoli help?
In order to “fix” this perception, here’s a lesson in parenting that helped me challenge these negative perceptions.
My son, like many other 4-year-olds across the world, does not go crazy over eating his veggies, and broccoli is not a word he particularly likes hearing much in connection to dinner.
So in order to challenge that idea, I needed a plan and lots of patience.
- Consistency is key
Whenever I introduce a new veggie, I make sure I serve it more than once. A one-off is not enough to create new habits. It is my responsibility as a parent to not deter from the message I send out: “veggies are healthy”.
In a similar way, in my professional life, I don’t deter from the message that CFOs are the only way to sustainable profits. Repeating it is my responsibility, and it is the only way to turn into popular belief.
- Quality over quantity
In order to change habits, you have to start small. Convincing Edvin to eat a plate full of broccoli is a losing battle. I think even the most understanding of children would be pretty unimpressed if you served them a boring plate of veggie. But tasting is a different thing.
Plus, you can get creative: roasted, fried, boiled, in different arrangements or combinations might get different answers.
Adults are not that different. Bamboozle people with a lot of information and you have every chance for your message to get rejected from the get go. The mind puts it in the “boring” box and quickly goes to find something else worthy of its attention.
The secret is to start small and always deliver value. People will come looking when they’re ready for more!
- Reinforce the positive experience
When Edvin first ate a piece of broccoli, I didn’t ask him: “did you like it?”. That ends with a “yes”. More likely, it ends with a “no”. Instead I asked him “what did it taste like?” and “what did it feel like?”. That type of answer gives him a chance to offer a more detailed answer of his experience. Children can get a bit overwhelmed with interpreting too many senses all at once and they may dismiss a food going by just one signal. Eyes, texture, taste are all part of the food experience. If one of them is bad, but the other 2 are good, we can focus on the positives and fix the third.
When I ask my clients about their experience of working with me, I focus on the transformation we achieved. That way they reiterate the positives they’ve experienced working alongside a CFO. I also know that by focusing on their achievements in this journey, they are more likely to speak about their experience with others along with the positive feelings they experienced.
What is your relation with the words “finance”, “money”, or “profit”? And more importantly what would help you in challenging a negative association with any of them?