Updated: Mar 2
You’re standing in your boss’s office, gesticulating excitedly as you explain your brilliant idea for a new project. You’re well-prepared, you’re confident...and you can’t understand why he’s staring at you like you just switched to Italian. Communication is important in the workplace, but communicating effectively is not always as straightforward as it might seem. When two cultures collide, communication becomes more complex, even if both parties speak English. American subcultures have their own unique vocabulary and expressions which can be incomprehensible to those of the dominant culture or other subcultures, hampering communication and causing everyone involved to wonder what’s going on.
As members of a subculture, Christians use many words and expressions that could potentially confuse their non-Christian bosses, co-workers, clients, and employees. As a Christian, you likely use these words and expressions without giving much thought to the fact that others might not understand what you mean. Becoming conscious of the uniquely Christian verbiage you use is the first step towards communicating more effectively, as well as avoiding giving the impression that your English skills are lacking.
The words and expressions below have been culled from conversations I’ve had with Unbound students and alumni, as well as from posts by Unbounders. All confused me when I came across them, so consider them field-tested by a non-Christian.
While this can be understood in context, it’s a uniquely Christian expression to indicate helping someone in their efforts. Non-Christians simply don’t say that and will probably be confused if you offer to walk alongside them. Unless you want to go on an actual walk.
Non-Christians talk about pouring liquid into cups. Only Christians talk about pouring into someone when they’re referring to investing energy or time in others. You will want to find a different way of saying that if you don’t want to confuse people.
Again, only Christians “speak into” other people’s lives. Non-Christians simply offer advice, give guidance, or use some other term to describe the same thing.
While this is a mainstream English word, your average non-Christian will likely never use it, and might even think “Free Masons” when they hear it.
Be careful how you talk about feeling reproved, because non-Christians will think you got in trouble with the law if you talk about being convicted.
Feel called to
While a lovely expression, non-Christians mostly don’t understand the premise behind “feeling called” to something and will possibly consider you a bit odd if you say that you do.
Have a heart for
While also lovely, this makes no sense in English. Unless you’re Christian. Better to say you “feel called” than you “have a heart for”, but saying you feel passionate about something would be best.
Again, this doesn’t make grammatical sense. The “on” isn’t needed. You simply “love” something.
Be careful with this one, because Christians use it rather differently from the rest of the population. If you say you covet something, that generally means you want something that belongs to someone else, which can come across as creepy, especially if you say it heartfeltly. “Covet” is not a word non-Christians use with any frequency.
Do life together
This simply sounds strange. You won’t find your non-Christian co-workers saying that in reference to their significant other or their best friend.
To do something “in love”
Sorry, but this is not grammatically correct. You don’t do something “in love”. You do it “out of love”. At least, if you aren’t a Christian.
Using this to reference a non-Christian may seem normal to some Christians, but it comes across as deeply insulting to non-Christians. “Depraved” is a harsh word in non-Christian English.
While an adorable term for “mother-in-law”, non-Christians will think your autocorrect slipped up on this one. They might eventually decide to adopt it, but they likely wouldn’t have heard it before you came along.
This is a hugely important word in Christianity, but the average person rarely uses the term, even in reference to everyday type of grace. (Unless they know someone named Grace.) Explaining the connotations of the word would be helpful.
To have something put on your heart
This is confusing to non-Christians and can make you sound like someone who meditates surrounded by scented candles and speaks in a really wispy voice. It’s a good idea to use more concrete terms to convey the same meaning.
Non-Christians do not use this word. Ever. They know what it means in a vague sort of way, but won’t necessarily understand how you use it. Use a different word instead.
There is nothing wrong with using culture-specific expressions, but when you’re among people who don’t share your culture it’s wise to communicate in a way that ensures you will be understood. In the workplace, aim for words and expressions that everyone can understand easily, so you avoid the scenario described at the beginning of the post. If you do find yourself in such a position, don’t panic. Ask “Am I not being clear?” to give the other party the opportunity to explain which part of what you said they found confusing.
Good luck with that project! As soon as you clear up the misunderstanding, no doubt your boss will love it.