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What is the impact of discussing concepts with colleagues using different languages? I suspect the outcome will be confusion.

Can this occur when two people are both using English? My experience is yes.

Recently I was working with a client whose are of expertise is innovation and R&D. He was trying to navigate a conversation with a stakeholder around aspects of organisational strategy. The role of innovation in the plan seemed to be a sticking point.

Something he said during the conversation prompted me to ask the question, “Are you using ‘innovation’ as a noun or a verb?” His response was ‘verb’. He was talking about innovation as a process across the entire company.

I then asked, “Is your stakeholder using ‘innovation’ as a verb or a noun?” He paused. “I don’t know, but, now I think about it, I think he is using it as a noun. He is talking about developing ‘innovations’ that can be rolled out across the company.”

The difference in language is subtle but significant. Both my client and his stakeholder are trying to do the right thing, but they are confused by each other’s use of language.

In order to have a shared understanding, it’s important to have shared meaning.

What words are creating confusion in your conversations? Perhaps it’s time to be curious and ask people what they mean.


For more on language and its effects, check out my thoughts here.