Learning the Language of Business

For an anthropologist interested in practicing in the business world, it is as important that he or she learn the language, so to speak, of that culture as it is for an anthropologist entering the a small, tribal society.  It would be tempting to initially argue that the university settings in which we first learn the basics of our discipline are remiss in preparing students for the corporate life, but this would be shortsighted, inaccurate, and unfair.  Preparation ultimately rests on the practitioner’s shoulders – we receive the fruits of experience of our teachers, but ultimately we must learn the basics of the languages and customs of the people with whom we will live and work on our own.  Unfortunately, learning the communication styles and language of the business world must be done rapidly – the “natives” are largely unforgiving and impatient, casting the “academic” anthropologist out on the street if they do not perform within the approved social and linguistic norms quickly.  And so I have learned, or so I like to believe.

Today, my anthropological training is applied to attempting to understand the ways in which culture influences and reflects how people, middle-class Americans in particular, interact with, use, and conceptualize the internet, electronic media, and consumer electronics.  The nature of the work is such that research time is often dreadfully limited and the results of fieldwork are frequently ambiguous.  Communicating this to groups that expect simple, concrete answers and recommendations is at times a seemingly insurmountable task.  But it needn’t be so.  Rather, it is a matter of learning how our audiences make sense of their worlds and crafting language that meets their needs in a range of contexts.

To my mind, the most significant change comes in the way we present our findings.  My limited experience has indicted that we are a new voice to business and though respected, we are expected to adapt to the social and linguistic rules of this unforgiving lot. So, as we talk to the issues that will develop into holistic synergies, we continue to harvest constructive relationships and build a new paradigm – or something along those lines.


One thought on “Learning the Language of Business

  1. I would agree. I’ve learned so much from my own experiences with my first real post-graduate job search! This of course also helps in applying for jobs and doing interviews, since you know how to speak about your skills in a way that makes sense to people. For example, I never used the term “consumer insights” much until just a few months ago. This also gets you very practiced at conveying to people what exactly it is that an anthropologist is trained in and what they can do on the job.

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