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What do malaphors have to do with business communication?

Posted by Australia Fonality

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Mixed messages can be bad for business.

You can lead a horse to water, but you can't look him in the mouth. Idioms, while a colourful and essential way of communicating, can often be misinterpreted or strung together in interesting ways. When two idioms, sayings or colloquialisms are mashed together unintentionally, the sometimes hilarious result is what's called a malaphor.

The above malaphor combines the sayings "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink" and "You can't look a gift horse in the mouth". As idioms contain meaning on their own, combining two can garble the message.

While malaphors are generally harmless if not amusing quirks of language, in the world of business communication it's another story entirely.

While malaphors are generally harmless quirks of language, in the world of business communication it's another story entirely. Effective communication between employees, teams and clients relies on clear, concise messages being passed along. Misinterpretation can sometimes have disastrous consequences. Ensuring the integrity between communication platforms is essential, so malaphors (or any other grammatical oddities) make it through.

"Reading between the tea leaves". What are some examples of malaphors?

Malaphors often still carry the intention of the separate idioms, and some are so commonly used that they become a saying all on their own. Some popular ones include:

  • "We'll burn that bridge when we get to it." This malaphor was popularised by the Jimmy Buffet song "Burn that Bridge," in which the malaphor made up the chorus of the song. It combines the sayings "we'll cross that bridge when we get to it," and "burn your bridges."
  • "You hit the nail right on the nose," blends two similar sayings "hit the nail on the head" and "hit it on the nose."
  • "I can read him like the back of a book," is a mash up of the phrases "read him like the back of my hand" and "read him like a book."

However, malaphors aren't just fun and games. In a business environment, without a way to effectively communicate, unintentional mixed messages can end up doing more harm than good.

Do malaphors have a place in business communication?Do malaphors have a place in business communication?

We don't need malaphors to understand the importance of clear communication

Businesses that rely on communication don't need malaphors to highlight the dangers of burning bridges before they reach them. Effective communication underpins many business processes, according to the Australian Institute of Business, including:

  • Positive relationship building.
  • Fostering innovation.
  • Managing diverse teams.
  • Building transparency.
  • Contributing to business growth.

Getting the basics of communication wrong can make it hard to grow business productivity. There needs to be a clear line of communication between what was said, and what was meant, and deviations can cost businesses time and money. The right communication tools can reduce much of this risk.

Getting the basics of communication wrong can make it hard to grow business productivity.

Do away with mixed messaging with unified communications

Unified communications (UC) play a vital role in ensuring that no matter what platform employees and clients use to communicate, the message stays consistent throughout. UC works by combining all of a company's communication channels - text, email, chat, voice chat, video conferencing, screen sharing and more - into a single, easy to manage application that can be accessed anywhere at any time.

UC helps to avoid potentially harmful instances of miscommunication that can occur when employees manually transcribe information between platforms such as text and email. Not only does this dramatically reduce the chance of unintended malaphors making their way into client-facing conversations, UC helps foster a collaborative environment for users to work in, sharing documents and information in a clear and effective manner.

To find out how Fonality's unified communications platform can help boost collaboration and productivity within your organisation, reach out to our friendly team today.