Once in a while, I’m using a word and think that I’d prefer to use a different word. I’ll have tried to describe something and the word that fits best, in my mind, may be one I know from a different language.
That’s not only restricted to words that don’t exist in another language. English for example has both the word freedom and the word liberty. It allows to distinguish two slightly different concepts. In German, both translate to “Freiheit”, whereas in French both translate to “liberté.” And since I’ve been thinking about the difference between both, it’s been a search on how to express these concepts in French or German.
It’s a fantastic way to gain a better understanding of some concepts and thus the meaning we attach to words.
The same struggle exists within a language. All of us use words as a symbol for the meaning we’ve given them. That can be easily seen thinking about words like success, fame, or happiness. But it is just as true for any word. What is the car you see when you think of a car? When talking about distance, is it miles, meters, or hours for you? In most everyday conversations this doesn’t play a big role. It does, however, when conflicts start to arise. And it does play an important role in leadership.
When teams call for clear or simple language, they actually express that they are not sure they understand what they are being told as well as they would like it to be. They have not yet reached a degree of intimacy that comes from having established a shared language. That is a language where symbols and meanings overlap significantly for all the team members. And also a language where team members are aware of how the meaning they attribute to words may be different from the one outsiders would use.
It shows when team members explain those words to outsiders. Or when new team members intuitively grasp that they have to ask what is meant.
It takes hard work or a lot of time until such a state is reached.