Language shapes ideas — even bad ones

Tenet Healthcare tops – or should we say bottoms – Fortune magazine’s least-admired companies for 2007, coming in at number one in all eight key attributes of reputation.  Its problems are reflected in the language on its most public face, tenethealth.com.

Follow the link to “Mission and Values,” for example, and here’s what you get:

Tenet’s name and logo reflect its core business philosophy – the importance of shared values between partners in providing a full spectrum of quality, cost-efficient health care.

What’s wrong with that statement? Plenty. This health-care company promises you a link to its mission, then tells you about its name and logo – sort of. What are those shared values? Who are those partners? You’ll never know unless you’re willing to spend a lot more time on this site.  

Hospitals are about patients who want to be treated as individuals. Browsing this site wouldn’t give me any sense that a Tenet-affiliated hospital cares about you as a person. Here’s every bit of the verbiage under the section labeled “Our Advantages”: 

Throughout our hospitals and our company, we’re focused on two key areas: quality patient care and customer service.  Our people are – The Tenet Difference.

You can follow another link to “Patient Care,” but you don’t find out anything about any patients. 

As writer Dale Spender said, “Language is not neutral. It is not merely a vehicle which carries ideas. It is itself a shaper of ideas.” 

Tenet’s language has shaped the ideas that helped it land on Fortune’s least-admired list.                      

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