Verbs V Nouns - The Way We Speak and How It Affects Our Company Culture

Verbs Versus Nouns – How Language Affects Culture

At Team One we often talk about the affect language has on culture. How if you take away a language, you take away a culture.  I wanted to explore that thought further by taking a look at two components of the English Language – Verbs and Nouns – and how our use of these affects our company culture. These are my findings.

Verbs – are doing words

Nouns  – are naming words

What we’re often finding in our work with organisations, is that the use of verbs and nouns has slid together and almost merged into one.

Let me explain. For example, like many people, if I choose to, I can gamble.  I can go to any casino and place a bet, but my actions don’t automatically qualify me as a gambler.    Just because someone observes me gambling, (the verb) doesn’t mean I am a gambler (the noun).

The same applies in the workplace.  I could be in a team meeting with John and John disagrees with me and starts to argue the point.  The fact that he argues doesn’t automatically mean John is an argumentative or difficult person.

In working with teams we observe the slip between verb and noun and it’s a very steep slope.  A one-time observation of a staff members behaviour, ie  John disagrees once in a meeting, (verb) is discussed as John is argumentative, a troublemaker, difficult or whatever other labels John might receive. (noun)

There’s a real difference between naming a persons action as opposed to labelling them as something.  Unfortunately, as we’ve often observed, people choose to use the noun rather than the verb.

And then there are the Collective Nouns. This puts the labelling phenomenon on steriods and has detrimental affects on the culture.

Collective Nouns – a count noun that denotes a group of people

Once someone in a team has been labelled “John is a Troublemaker”.  There can be a propensity to use the collective noun and see the entire team who surround John as “Troublemakers”.

Using the collective noun,  ie tarring everyone with the same brush does not transform a company culture.  In fact, it’s a step in the opposite direction.

I think our use of verbs and nouns is something we all need to be aware of. So I challenge you to consider the following:


Am I using a verb to describe a behaviour?


Am I using a noun and labelling a person?


Remember it is language that defines a culture. How we talk about our colleagues and even how we talk about ourselves is fundamental to the health of company culture.



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