An insatiable focus on “performance” is often the defining characteristic of what most of us do, or profess to do, in both our professional and personal lives.
Yet, the words, terms, jargon, slang, lingo, acronyms, and other language of “performance” are often misinterpreted by those with differing backgrounds.
While we talk about “results”, they hear “processes”; while we talk about “ends”, they hear “means”; and while we talk about “performance”, they hear “performing”.
And somewhere among the many miscommunications that populate our interactions, the focus of our profession is somehow watered down, adulterated, diluted, weakened, or even worse… lost.
Does this mean that we are wrong to create a language that communicates readily within our profession but haphazardly beyond the boundaries of a few professional associations? Most likely not; after all, we use our professional language, like most professions do, as a practical means for clearly communicating the particulars of theories, tools, and techniques with others that have similar interests, backgrounds, and language.
But when we attempt use our specialized language at the fringes of our profession (for example, in conversations with professionals in human resources, organizational development, or industrial psychology that each have a language of their own that only modestly overlap with ours), numerous obstacles to successful performance improvement will typically form. This is not, however, unique to our profession or our language; just try to carry on a meaningful conversation with a tax attorney sometime. And when other professionals can benefit from your knowledge then they will “learn” your language very quickly.
But most of the language barriers present problems when we are in the position of wanting something from someone who speaks another language, and that means we have to overcome the obstacles created by the differences in language. For example, if you want technical information from a subject matter expert, then you will have to speak their language. Or if you want a to perform a needs assessment within a firm of electrical engineers, then you will have to speak their language.
To overcome the many obstacles created by our differing professional languages, we typically apply three tactics:
First, do your best to identify and learn the language of others with whom you will be working. If you are working with a group of priests, take time to learn at least a little of the language they will be using to communicate with you.
Second, use their language to define your language. Unlike a dictionary, we do not want use our own words to define our words.
Third, model your language carefully and religiously. If you do not use your professional language accurately and consistently, then you can’t expect that it will communicate across professions with any necessary precision.
These three tactics for improving the clarity of your communications can be used in relation to many professional activities. From talking with potential clients to planning for a successful needs assessment, work to communicate effectively with others about what performance is, what it is not, and how it can best be improved in order to accomplish valuable results for everyone.