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The battle against: “One Word, Many Meanings”

In working across departments here at Progrexion, I see how easily the same word can carry a different definition from one group to another. When working with Human Resources, Teleservices, Marketing, Legal, Teleservices, and Development – oftentimes one of the biggest hurdles we face is making sure we’re talking about the same thing.  Even though we are SAYING the same thing, we often MEAN different things. Because each department has a unique perspective and differing priorities as far as what is important to look for, you’ll find each person has subconsciously given their own personal twist to what specific words means.

Another factor that can contribute to “One Word, Many Meanings” is fast paced work environments. If you’re working in a place that is constantly innovating, updating, and progressing (like we do here at Progrexion), it’s easy to forget what a certain word meant 4 years ago versus today. For example, did “Social Media” in 2008 mean the same thing to your company as “Social Media” means in 2012? It’s very likely that “Social Media” in 2008 meant creating a Facebook page for your company – and now in 2012 “Social Media” means having a presence on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and being compatible with Youtube and Google+.

Clearly defining WHAT you’re talking about to start off with is a huge key to increasing communication and clarity as you work across teams. I am on a mission to replace “One Word, Many Meanings” with “One Word, One Meaning.” Here are a couple of steps we can take towards unifying our language in the workplace:

  • Create an annual glossary of definitions for words that are used frequently in your company. At Progrexion, we published our first glossary last month (Jan 2012). This will help your company stay consistent year over year – and will ensure that any changing meanings to words are intentional, and more importantly documented. It’s a great tool to help new coworkers get up to speed on how the company works, and to ensure no one is blurring the meaning behind highly used words.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask “When you say ________, what do you mean by that?” at the beginning of conversations. Usually you can feel the disconnect in conversation pretty quickly when working with someone and their statements aren’t aligning with what you’re thinking. This can be solved quickly and casually – by asking clarifying questions early on in meetings. If you feel like there is disconnect about what you’re talking about – discuss it early on in the process, to avoid wasted time and resources.