So much of my management coaching practice is about providing people with better tools for the common problems they continue to struggle with. At times, these “new” tools are actually things we learned way back when we were in school. We had tuned out our teachers while we were learning them, thinking, When will I ever use this stuff? Well, lo and behold, you became a manager, and that when is now.

For instance, there is a certain tool I have found to be extremely effective in clearing up all sorts of communication glitches in organizations, and it works almost instantly. It’s something most of us learned about way back in our primary school English classes, but we forgot about it that long ago too, because our English teachers were pretty much the only people who talked about it. Once I remembered it, I discovered it to be one of the most powerful communication tools we could use in our company so that expectations would be clear. That tool, harking back to English 101, is vocabulary.

According to AskOxford.com,

“the Second Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary contains full entries for 171,476 words in current use, and 47,156 obsolete words.”

With so many words to choose from, if you speak English, chances are that vocabulary is something you need pretty badly at work. When you use certain words in your organization, you leave them open to interpretation when you are not specific about defining them. On the other hand, creating concise vocabulary within an organization will shape the language you specifically choose to employ when you communicate with each other.

In the work world, think of vocabulary as your misconception killer. My experience has been that people don’t find vocabulary conversations at work insulting or condescending. On the contrary, they become very grateful that we didn’t assume so much and made our intent so clearly known. Even when people define words correctly, they can misinterpret the context in which they are used, or find that they are just too broad and not succinct enough. In these cases, vocabulary becomes a tool for narrowing down the variables; it can save heaps of time because intention is so immediately clear.

Let’s look at a few examples of common work related words that are often used interchangeably in many organizations, and I’ll explain how we use them very specifically in my company to create our own language of intention with them.

    Objective and Goal

For us, our objectives are the strategic objectives which are company wide, shared by every single person in the organization. Goals relate to people individually, and what they wish to learn and achieve to grow within the organization on a personal basis.

    Systems and Processes

With these two words, process is the word of choice when the way things work involve the performance of people. This is easy to remember, in that we keep the 3 p’s of people, performance, and process together. On the other hand, systems refer to things like paper trails, electronic and IT systems, and those largely automated structures we have in place; they are universally “systemic” and not driven by individual choice. Once the setting part is done, the people involvement is minimal.

    Management and Leadership

Both such robust, intricate, and complex verbs! We find it useful to use ‘classic Webster’ on this one: “Manage; to bring about or succeed in accomplishing; contrive. Lead; to go before or with to show the way, conduct or escort.” Generally management is about our operational strategies, and leadership our visionary ones.

Which concepts would you love to have better defined in your company? How can specific vocabulary help cut through confusion and ambiguity for you?

Related articles:
Ho‘omau and your Language of Intention
What’s the difference between Mission and Vision?

Rosa Say is the author of Managing with Aloha, Bringing Hawaii’s Universal Values to the Art of Business and the Talking Story blog. She is also the founder and head coach of Say Leadership Coaching, a company dedicated to bringing nobility to the working arts of management and leadership.

Rosa’s Previous Thursday Column was: ROV Coaching: Gain Return on your Values.

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