Last week I fractured my fibula after an innocuous slip down a few stairs. Being the small bone in the lower leg with the purpose of stabilisation not bearing weight, it required no treatment just a necessity for me to put up with the pain and discomfort.

After seriously breaking my arm as a child and going through months of plaster casts and rehabilitation, the thought that a fractured leg required no treatment was certainly novel – and not just to me…

I went home to the country this weekend and, as with any small town, the word had spread “Lisa has broken her leg”.  Everyone I saw was shocked to see me walking (and with no plaster cast), some wanted me to go home and put my leg up, some wanted me to get a walking stick, some wanted me to seek a second opinion as my doctor was obviously incompetent, but all had a particular idea of what a broken leg was and expected me to act a certain way and to be treated in the way that reflected their idea.

Obviously the term “fractured” or “broken” leg is evocative to those people, and this causes me to ponder what other evocative words there are out there causing people to have differing perspectives when using the very same language.

When one person talks about change management or leadership or culture or innovation or just about anything and other people hear it, are they really hearing the meaning or are they drawing an entirely different idea than the one being communicated purely because to them, the word means something entirely different?

Could this be why we struggle to communicate with each other?  Our words mean different things to different people.  For something like “broken leg” it was obvious that I and others had different ideas, they expected me to be in a cast and I wasn’t – so the questions were asked.   But what if there is no obvious sign that our understanding of words and concepts are different? We could be having very long conversations thinking we are on “the same page” and walking away with completely different ideas and accomplishing nothing.

So how do we solve this problem?

There are a couple of choices that I can see.

We could invent brand new words to communicate an idea so that no historical context is present, although this could lead to more confusion…

Or we could clarify our meaning rather than using “thought bites” to communicate.

Perhaps we could start a conversation on leadership with the words “when I speak of leadership, I mean…”

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Written by Lisa Smith

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Lisa is a professional thinker dedicated to helping people unlock their innate creativity and to empower them to think differently – for themselves. She is passionate about building innovative cultures and about harnessing and engaging talent to create thinking communities. Lisa holds an MBA, specialising in organisational change and innovation, which forms the nucleus of her work. She relishes opportunities to share the Minds at Work thinking strategies with government bodies, socially responsible corporate, educators, community groups and farmers, helping them to turn their big ideas into realities.