Words Matter

The COO of my company has a couple handy catchphrases he likes to pull out as needed. One that rings true quite often is short but important:

Words matter

He doesn’t say this, of course, to say that the combination of sounds has any inherent magical power, but that the shared definition of those sounds are important. In any work, there needs to be a baseline of understanding of what we are talking about, or bad things could happen.

I have a story for this. I wasn’t going to share this story on the blog, but I think it conveys the meaning of the quote above, and it gives everyone a little chuckle.

As a male of a certain age with particular medical flags, when you get your check-up there is a certain exam that you need to start getting. A couple years ago it was time for me to have that specific exam.

It’s just one of those things you need to do take care of yourself, but there is definitely an associated sense of dread that comes with it.

My doctor was discussing it with me, and I distinctly remember his words: “The best way to do this is with a digital exam.”

Remember, I am a technology nerd with a long history working in IT. To me, the word “digital” conjures up electronics, and scanners, and ones and zeros. I was thrilled for a nano-second as I thought the particular examination had caught up with modern technology.

I don’t know if it was my brain catching up with reality, or maybe my doctor made a slight expression of confusion over me looking elated, but at that point I realized that “digital” could also have another definition.

“Digital”…

As in “digits”…

As in “fingers”.

We hadn’t agreed to our shared definitions and for an instant my understanding of what was going to happen was very different from what his understanding was.

Agree on terms. Define them as needed.

Words matter.