What language do you speak at work?

1 Oct 2021

What language do you speak at work? I’m not talking about English or Spanish. I’m talking about the type of language you use to communicate ideas and information. Is it business language, or technical language? Or something else?

Despite what we like to believe, business people don’t speak business language all the time. Technical people don’t speak technical language all the time either.

So, what are the languages we use at work and when do we use them?

Every company uses three languages

Every commercial organisation operates using three types of language.

  • User language
  • Expert (or technical) language
  • Business language

Each type of language is used by different people in different situations. You may be surprised to learn that the language you use has very little to do with the job you do.

Someone can be a technical expert, a user, and also need to use business language, all within the same day.

User language

Users are the people who use the products and services a company provides. Everyone is a user of something and by default everyone speaks user language. We all use clothes, furniture, phones, cars, apps, TVs, and more. The way we talk about these objects, how they work, and what we like and don’t like about them, is user language.

No one is taught user language. The words, phrases, and structure of user language are as varied as the people who use it.

User language is something companies work hard to understand. Business and technical teams translate the variety of user language into meaningful requirements.

Expert technical language

Every company is made up of skilled people. Every job has its own expertise and therefore its own expert technical language. This language includes words, tools and techniques that enable the expert to do their job.

We learn the expert technical language in our job training. This happens at university, in training, and while we do our jobs every day at work.

Expert languages are not limited to traditionally ‘technical’ teams. Accountants are technical experts in the topic of company finance. Marketing managers are experts in promoting products and brands. Software developers are experts in specific programming languages.

When an expert talks with another expert in the same field, they can use the same expert language. To anyone without that expertise, the language is confusing. When two accountants talk about tax returns it can sound like a foreign language to anyone who isn’t an accountant.

Every job type has its own expert technical language. Despite this, some topics are harder to understand than others. The more technical the topic, the less likely someone outside the group will understand the language.

Jobs that involve programming, data, and engineering, have complex expert language. People not in those jobs find it difficult to understand the technical language. This causes complaints about techies speaking ‘technical language’.

Business language

The section above states that every job has its own expert or technical language. Even jobs that we define as ‘business jobs’ use expert technical language.

This raises an obvious question. If we all speak expert technical language at work, is there such a thing as business language? And if yes, what is it for?

The answer is yes, there is such a thing as business language. And we use it in the following situations:

  1. Anytime a business decision is requested, made, justified or defended.
  2. Planning and sharing status for work between teams.
  3. When communicating with senior leaders and executives.

The use of business language depends on the situation. It does not depend on the job of the person using it. Technical professionals should use business language just as much as business professionals. Both groups should use business language when they ask for funding. When giving executive updates, or when they justify using one solution over another.


If the question is ‘What language do you speak at work?’, the answer should be ‘All of them’.

All work communication falls into the categories of user, business, or expert/technically. It is important to recognise these three languages work in different situations. A person in a business role can also be a user. A technical person can also make business decisions.

  • When you are talking about how to use something, or the benefits to the user, you are speaking user language.
  • When you are talking about how something works, you are speaking expert technical.
  • For communication about decisions, planning, and status, you will probably use business language.

It is the situation that defines the language used and not the people in the conversation.

Learn more with my online course

Get your message across

‘Get your message across’ course with Chris Fenning

In this course you’ll learn how to:

  • Communicate effectively with people in different teams
  • Discover how to create relevant messages your audience can relate to and understand
  • Simplify complex ideas and communicate in a way that is jargon-free


Please contact me for bulk purchase discounts.