Go on, shut your eyes and picture a tree. Or draw one. Maybe even pick out a tree picture on Pinterest.
I just know that your tree will be a different tree to mine, and to your partners and your friends…
Maybe your tree is tall, round, bare, cartoonish, painterly, evergreen, red-leaved; a tree in winter or summer…
It’s easy to imagine that when we hear a word or phrase we all…
- have the same thoughts about it
- create the same mental pictures
- feel the same emotion…
… but when you stop and think about it, given that we all live such different lives, doesn’t it make sense that all our pictures would be different?
By now you’re probably wondering why I’m talking about trees? Has the crazy weather finally got to me?
Well, I’m increasingly fascinated by language and by the way our brains work, and of course… the impact this has on self-belief.
In my last job, where I worked for 15 years, I gradually let go of most of my self-belief, for many small reasons. One of them, which feels crazy now, was…
I was scared of the word ’strategy’.
The way it was used it seemed like an important word, and I wasn’t quite sure how to use it… and at what point do you put your hand up and say you’re stuck? And eventually, for me, I made this mean that “I wasn’t good enough to get into the sort of conversations that used the word strategy”. How’s that for a self-imposed glass ceiling?!
And I still remember the day I found out for certain that it was simply a long-term plan; I knew that was what the dictionary said but why then had it always felt so much more?
So, again, back to trees!
Let’s say you and I are having an important conversation about trees, and I might wonder why you’re bringing tinsel into the mix and you’re confused when I mention brambles… we both feel unsure, like we’ve missed something?
It’s not going to be the best conversation.
Imagine though, we start out by agreeing what we each mean by ’tree’… now we understand each other better, no one has the upper hand, we’re equal in this conversation and it’s going to be better for it.
Trees are an easier word to define because we can draw a picture; when we get onto words without pictures it’s trickier again. A colleague often talks about how they spent a full day with a management team… not agreeing on a communication strategy, but agreeing what they collectively meant by ‘communication’ and by ‘strategy’… and then what they meant by ‘communication strategy’!
So, can you see how not sharing a common understanding of a word can lead to inequality and self-doubt? Got any examples in your work or home life?
My invitation to you is if you find yourself feeling less-than because you’re not sure what people are talking about, or you’re in one of those conversations where you feel it’s about to go wrong, call a time-out and check in with word-meanings.
I promise you, no one will think you’re daft, they’ll probably have been thinking the same and wishing they were as courageous as you.
You’ve got this!
Until next time, let’s keep on keeping it simple.
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