Do you have teenage kids? If so, you’ll probably find some of their language alien.

Last week I used the word peng* with my 13 year old. The look of horror, no, disdain, on her face was enough to tell me never to use it again. I was put in my place – middle-aged dad.

*Here’s what peng means if you’re as clueless as me.

For teenagers, the tribe is everything. And the language tells us who’s in, and who’s out.

We all want to be in the gang

Through prehistory we evolved language because it helped us both cooperate, and compete effectively, in early societies.

As hunter gatherers we lived in much smaller groups than we do today, and being part of a tribe meant you survived. If your tribe rejected you, you wouldn’t live for very long. So we adopted the language of the tribe to get along with everyone. To belong.

You might not be consciously aware of it. But you’re doing exactly that in your own companies.

Think about your first week in your current job. Did you have any trouble understanding the language people were using?

I don’t mean the difference between Swedish and English. I mean the hundreds of acronyms and company jargon. You weren’t part of the tribe yet.

One of my early jobs was working for the large retailer Boots (Walgreens Boots Alliance). I kept going to meetings where people talked about stores. So I’m imagining great big warehouses where all the stock was kept.

One day, in an important meeting, I decided to ask where these stores were. I felt like an idiot when someone pointed out the stores were shops, found on most high streets. But no one had told me. I was outside the tribe.

Think about how our customers feel when we use the language we know so well in the business with them. Often it’s completely meaningless. We’re using it in a way that keeps them away from us. They can’t ever become part of our tribe.

We need to change our language so our customers can understand us, get closer and become a part of our gang. That’s where loyalty starts.

We can use language to create tribes

Language is a brilliant way of creating our own tribes.

Google is creating its own language – when I was working with them a few years ago I met Googlers, there’s the Googleplex, and the Google Earth (also known as – ‘we know where you live and what you’re up to’). They’re creating a sense of community and cohesiveness through language. Clever stuff.

The questions is…how could you use language to change the way your customers and colleagues see your business and make them part of your tribe?