Back to Basics: Establishing a Common Vocabulary

You say “tomato.”

I say “tomahto.”

But we don’t have to call the whole thing off.  All we need to do is establish a common vocabulary.

That is the first task I undertake when facilitating groups that do not customarily work together.  Without a common vocabulary, it’s impossible to move forward and create new projects or build trust.

It’s natural to develop a vocabulary that can only be understood within certain groups.  Indeed, it’s expeditious, because it often allows you to create shortcuts that facilitate and speed up communication.  One of the reasons why tacit knowledge can be difficult to transfer is because of routine communication developed in groups that work together.  People may not even realize that they are using unique phrases.  That is why the first step to building trust and alliances is to establish the vocabulary anew.

Steps to Establishing a Common Vocabulary

  1. Ask each group to describe what they do as it pertains to the discussion at hand.
  2. Write down key phrases and ask for further definitions and clarifications.
  3. Create a list of equivalent phrases, linked by “=” signs.
  4. As the discussion continues, note any terms that come up frequently or any new terms.
  5. Remember, the key is getting back to basics.  If a conflict arises during the discussion, listen to the terms that are being used and see if they might be at the core of the disagreement.

About Anne
I'm a marketing professional with a deep passion for delivering a memorable Customer experience from the very first time a Customer encounters a brand. I have a strong focus on technology commercialization and marketing innovative products. While I was a student at the University of Toronto, I founded Young Inventors International, a not-for-profit organization that has worked with more than 2,000 university student innovators.

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