Confusion with wording and language in business

We use far too many buzzwords when communicating with each other and we have rarely defined what they mean.

Do who pretend to understand what a word means in a meeting? Or do you ask for a definition?

Some of the most confused buzzwords are:

Strategy and planning

Two of the words that I think are misused in many ways are strategy and planning. Often when you say something about strategy you are actually talking about the next step in the plan. Alternately, when you mention the plan you are really talking about strategy. This is very confusing and often you will hear things such as: “But that’s not included in the strategy so we should not be discussing it”, and relevant ideas can get side-lined.

So, what does it mean?

When you try to set the strategy and plan it can be everything or it can lead to nothing. When you are talking about the future and what you want to do and getting people involved, avoid using the word “strategy”. It can confuse your audience. Try to use another word for it. Use something like “planning for the future”, then more people will buy into the discussion. The word strategy when used in the wrong way can disengage part of your team. They might not think they have to contribute to the overall strategy. But planning for the future sounds more inviting and more people will contribute. The more people you have engaged in the discussion, the better the “plan for the future” you will get.

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This is from my own experience working with digital development. Often when you are working in a digital team, you use the word “roadmap”. You use the word “roadmap” to describe your digital development plans for the future. You put in the most crucial elements at the beginning of the roadmap and the less crucial elements at the end of the roadmap.

This roadmap is then directing you step by step on how to move forward. It is important to share this document with everybody who is involved. A good leader or manager will automatically share this knowledge with the teams involved and keep them updated about what has been done and what is due to be completed next.

One person probably owns the roadmap and makes sure that it is updated on a regular basis.

Lots of people in the digital teams will come and ask other teams for an update. People want to give suggestions and the more you know about what technical developments are in the plan, the better the answers you will be able to give them.

Common questions are: “When will this begin?”; “What is happening here?”; “Can we do anything about that?”; “Is it possible to do this or that?”

I would definitely recommend that you as a manger or leader in a digital team share the roadmap with others and explain what you mean by “roadmap” as in different organisations roadmap can mean different things. It can be the whole plan for three years of investment in one organisation or it can be what is going to happen in the next three months in regards to the marketing plan. Both can be called the roadmap.

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When words are not defined and agreed on, miscommunication will occur, and we know that we need to improve our communication.

Why does wording matter?

It takes a lot of resources to develop a business or organisation. For example, building a new website can take years, building a new database needs careful consideration, social media needs to communicate your brand values and your employees involvement is crucial to make your team reach the level of excellence that is needed. If you get this wrong and your colleagues are not involved then your development will be slow and cost more money and need more resources.

Communication tips 

This advice is for salespeople, marketers, business leaders, for people working in operations, people working in customer service; it’s for everyone. We all need to be clear with words and what they mean. To sit down and discuss what we mean by different expressions can actually save you from a lot of misunderstanding.

One way I have developed of establishing a shared view of language is through small informal workshops. You collect a group of people, you sit down and you discuss what you mean by different expressions. It should be a quick meet-up. Move on and continue another day if you can’t come up with a definition within one hour.

Then, after you have agreed on a common meaning, it is up to everyone to practice and talk to each other using the relevant expression. A workshop like this will give people energy and inspiration to dare to try to become a better communicator. The knowledge transfer is going to be smoother, skills will be shared and your colleagues are going to feel motivated.

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“Dare to share and get the basics right! When
you do you’ll see better financial results.”

Leadership communication principles: 

  • Stop using vague words when speaking to your colleagues.
  • Be conscious that people will mean different things when using the same words.
  • Don’t give your interpretation of the words more credit; your understanding might need to be readjusted.
  • Choose your words and expressions wisely.
  • It is crucial for organisations to have a good concept and understanding of what different expressions mean in order to move in the right direction together. Together you are much stronger. I know it sounds a bit like a cliché, but it’s true.

Common words that can cause misunderstandings: 

  • Alignment
  • Benchmark
  • Client-centric
  • Content management
  • Diversity
  • Facilitate
  • Framework
  • Impact
  • Leverage
  • Long term
  • Milestone
  • Mission
  • Paradigm
  • Plan
  • Proactive approach
  • Resourcefulness
  • Roadmap
  • Short term
  • Stakeholder
  • Strategy
  • Synergy
  • Urgent
  • Visibility
  • Vision
  • Win-win
  • Workflow

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono at


Sofie Sandell is the author of the book ‘Digital Leadership – How Creativity in Business Can Propel Your Brand and Boost Your Results’, to be published soon. 

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