Words Matter and then They Don’t

by | Jun 4, 2019 | Change |

Digital registration is not ok, digital identity isn’t either, customer ID is fine, beneficiary ID maybe, client ID should be ok, registered person is not ok, person number definitely not. And so the discussion went.

No this was not some theoretical exercise or practice for a gameshow. This was a discussion with a widely diverse group of people with different perspective working together to figure out what language to use in a presentation about a project. We had found ourselves in too many discussions with our respective teams and colleagues where the language we had been using was a stumbling block. It was frustrating and distracting as it was a barrier to moving forward.

We were facing the reality of how the words we use matter as they create images and connect to experiences within the people with whom we are speaking. The other reality we were facing was that none of us were particularly wedded to any word or phrase as the words ‘didn’t matter’, the process they described is what was important and would remain the same no matter what we called it. Words matter, and then, they don’t.

We also knew it was not going to be possible to please all stakeholders and so we might even need to use different words it different situations, but that too would be problematic. In the end, we have to define our terms quickly and clearly connecting phrases together so we draw people together and yet be clear about the purpose.

As annoying as this can be, it is a critical part of change, of bringing people together, of listening. Words matter and then they don’t; they give us space to work, to create the change we need/want, they give us ‘cover’. But they are rarely the end in themselves, rather, they are a means.


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