During a recent conversation with a colleague who used to serve in the military, we discussed the instability of the past several years and how best to find a way forward. I shared that I saw the need for more collaboration as we try to effectively cope with all the changes we’ve experienced. He looked completely shocked by my suggestion! “Why on earth would you want to collaborate?” he asked.
I was surprised by his reaction to a simple suggestion of teamwork. But after asking some clarifying questions, we realized that “collaboration” meant two very different things to the two of us. I was defining the term as they do on AIIM: “a working practice whereby individuals work together for a common purpose to achieve business benefit.” But with his military background, his first thought when he heard the word collaboration was “fraternizing with the enemy.” It’s easy to see why he would have found my suggestion so shocking!
We all know that the same word can have multiple meanings, but I am finding that it is more essential than ever to take the time to define what you mean when you use a term. The uptick in virtual communication through email and Zoom makes it more challenging to pick up on tone, expressions, gestures, and context clues, and too much can get lost in translation.
“What do you mean?”
Often people aren’t clear on what they mean by the words they’re using. Take the time to consider: What do I mean when I use common buzzwords, such as collaboration? Workplace culture? Burnout? Patient-centered care? Be willing to really think through what those words mean to you in the context in which you’re using them. Also, be willing to ask your colleagues to pause to explain what they mean when they use a term with multiple meanings, so that everyone can be on the same page and work from the same definition.