Clarify What a Word Means

“Language has history. Synonyms and alternatives abound. Myths can get in your way too, unless you’re willing to uncover them. 

Gather the following about each term: 

History: How did the term come into being? How has it changed over time?

Myths: Do people commonly misunderstand this term, its meaning, or its usage? How?

Alternatives: What are the synonyms for the term? What accidental synonyms exist?” 

Abby Covert, How to Make Sense of Any Mess

Every organisation I have worked in has its own vocabulary. There are terms you need to learn that have their own meaning, their own history, as per the quote above.

Meaning can change with context too. So the same word or phrase can mean different things based on the conversation you’re in at that moment.

Abby Covert challenges us to document these terms. To create what she calls a Controlled Vocabulary. She defines this as “An organized list of terms, phrases, and concepts to help someone understand a topic or domain.”

In the process you get very clear on what a word means. You clear up ambiguity. You understand the history. You bust the myths.

The goal? 

Common understanding. Clarity of what word means, and what it does not mean within the context of that organisation.

How can we understand each other when we don’t share the same definition of a word or phrase?

“Language is complex. But language is also fundamental to understanding the direction we choose. Language is how we tell other people what we want, what we expect of them, and what we hope to accomplish together.

Without language, we can’t collaborate.”

Abby Covert, How to Make Sense of Any Mess

Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash

Are Your Perceptions Working for You?

“Your emotional reaction is generated not by the sentences you are reading but by the way you are thinking. The moment you have a certain thought and believe it, you will experience an immediate emotional response. Your thought actually creates the emotion.”

David D. Burns M.D., Feeling Good

How we perceive the world around us, how we think about it, affects how we feel about it.

I recently completed a mindfulness course, and one of the exercises was to remember a happy thought. As I did, I smiled involuntarily.

Pay attention to how you perceive the world around you. Ask yourself if it is working for you?

If it is great.

If not, you can look into whether there are any distortions in your thinking. Correct those distortions and you’ll feel better.

For context I should point out that this is from a book on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. A core part of which is paying attention to how we perceive the world around us, and whether those perceptions are valid or useful.

Photo by Tengyart on Unsplash

Look for the Master Thinkers

“You must linger among a limited number of master thinkers, and digest their works, if you would derive ideas which shall win firm hold in your mind. Everywhere means nowhere. When a person spends all his time in foreign travel, he ends by having many acquaintances, but no friends.”

Seneca, Letters From a Stoic

I can remember where I was when I first heard this quote, walking down Blackwood St to the train station and off to work. It has stuck with me and I consider it as I choose what to read next. 

While I do not yet practice what Seneca advises, it has led me to re-read a few key books. In the re-read you get something different out of the book. You get a new level of detail. 

Of course, the books need have more substance to them. Some books are too light to warrant a second reading. And that begs the question on whether you should have picked the book in the first place.

It is also a challenge to look for the master thinkers on a topic and to read everything they have to say in that area. This is a strategy I use when selecting books for my reading list. 

I took this line of thought down into books, but I like the travel example as well. Consider who much of a place you really see when you “travel” … how could you better experience a different culture when you travel?

Featured photo by Iñaki del Olmo on Unsplash

Are you being clear on the response you want?

“When we simply express our feelings, it may not be clear to the listener what we want them to do.”

Marshall B. Rosenberg, Nonviolent Communication

Do you communicate what do you want someone to do when you are expressing your feelings?

In the book Nonviolent Communication, Marshall Rosenberg offers a way for us to think about how we communicate in the following four step process:

  1. Observe in as objective a manner as you can what is happening;
  2. Express how you Feel when you observe this action;
  3. Articulate your Need that is not being met (this links into yesterday’s post about compromise);
  4. Make a very specific Request of the person.

The quote below expands on that process in more detail.

First, we observe what is actually happening in a situation: what are we others saying or doing that is either enriching or not enriching our life? The trick is to be able to articulate this observation without introducing any judgment or evaluation—to simply say what people are doing that we either like or don’t like. Next, we state how we feel when we observe this action: are we hurt, scared, joyful, amused, irritated? And thirdly, we say what needs of ours are connected to the feelings we have identified.

Marshall B. Rosenberg, Nonviolent Communication

A second quote from the book was in my feed this morning, that makes the same point, but for groups:

“In a group, much time is wasted when speakers aren’t certain what response they’re wanting.”

Marshall B. Rosenberg, Nonviolent Communication

I challenge you to think about what you want from the other person when you are talking to them. Can you articulate that request in a way that helps them understand how to respond to you in a meaningful way?

Avoid Compromises, Listen and be Creative

“Notice that I use the word satisfaction instead of compromise! Most attempts at resolution search for compromise, which means everybody gives something up and neither side is satisfied. NVC is different; our objective is to meet everyone’s needs fully.”

Marshall B. Rosenberg, Nonviolent Communication

A compromise is not an ideal outcome or anyone. No one leaves the situation happy. We all had to give something up.

“To make my point on compromise, let me paint you an example: A woman wants her husband to wear black shoes with his suit. But her husband doesn’t want to; he prefers brown shoes. So what do they do? They compromise, they meet halfway. And, you guessed it, he wears one black and one brown shoe. Is this the best outcome? No! In fact, that’s the worst possible outcome. Either of the two other outcomes—black or brown—would be better than the compromise. Next time you want to compromise, remind yourself of those mismatched shoes.”

Chris Voss and Tahl Raz, Never Split the Difference

Can you use improve your ability to understand the needs of the other party?

Can you then use your creativity to find a solution that works for both of you?

“When we really, deeply understand each other, we open the door to creative solutions and third alternatives. Our differences are no longer stumbling blocks to communication and progress. Instead, they become the stepping stones to synergy.” 

Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change