Perspective Influences Definitions
When you hear or use words such as several, many, seldom, or rarely, we assume specific and definitive definitions. However, there will always be someone who has a different perspective…and a few other alternative definitions!
We often think these quantifiable words define absolute amounts, and we forget, or we are not aware, that the other person often has a different amount in mind for the same word.
When I was growing up, I wondered where does the number 4 fit in?! I believed that the definition of a few is “2 to 3 of something,” and that several was defined as “5 to 7 of something.” When I looked in the dictionary, my definitions were NOT confirmed. There are too many words that we think are defined by a specific quantity...and depending on our perspective, we each may have a different quantity in our own mind.
In the workplace, numerous (and let me define numerous to be more than 100) situations of conflict have involved the miscommunication about words that are assumed to be definitive. For example, the word “soon” has been the source of many interpretations…and conflicts.
Let’s start with some statements often heard in the workplace:
I want the report “soon.”
They said that they would submit it “soon.”
I will join the meeting “soon.”
They said the project would be completed “soon.”
I will call you “soon.”
When is soon? Each speaker and listener had a different “soon” in mind – and yet, none discussed what “soon” meant. Maybe “soon” isn’t that important in some situations. When the timing of “soon” does matter, then clarity will improve the communication, and the results.
The next time you hear yourself saying “soon”, “ASAP”, “sometimes”, “some”, “occasionally” or other similar words, then consider whether you have a specific timing or quantity in mind. If yes, then it is best to clearly state that. Improving and clarifying your communication will help you more effectively manage conflict in the workplace.