Friday 26 February 2016

Is your language clear?

Would you know what the words "Trust and Respect each other" meant?

Would this image cover it, or would another image come to mind?
"Trust and respect each other" was one of Tesco's values I shared in yesterday's blog about business values. I don't share it here to reflect on their values - it's just such a great example of how we use words and believe it's clear what we mean.

In training sessions I often use the word chocolate as a means of making the point, that we don't all have common agreement about what chocolate means, never mind more contentious words such as procurement, trust and respect,

Let's work backwards on the value to explain what I mean.

"Each other"

Do they mean just between Tesco employees? Where trust and respect go out of the window for shareholders, suppliers and customers? Or do they include customers in the mix, but perhaps exclude suppliers?

Yesterday I shared Ben & Jerry's values and it was much clearer from the language they used that trust and respect would include: "suppliers, employees, farmers, franchisees, customers, and neighbors" because they've been explicitly stated.

Do you get a sense of how easy it is for misunderstandings to arise. After all I can hear the person who developed Tesco's values shouting "Of course it just means x - why would it mean y?"

The next 2 words in the statement are nominalisations, and not verbs. Each person reading this will, therefore, have a different definition about what the word means. The degree of energy you put into even discussing their meaning will depend on where they appear on your own hierarchy of values.


Lack of respect is something that crops up in many coaching sessions, and yet its definition is as varied as those attending the sessions. It's lack might include:
  • Not returning calls 
  • Not saying thank you 
  • Not treating the person as you yourself would would wish to be treated
  • Not abusing or bullying the other person (although again these are words where one behaviour might be seen to be bullying by one person, and not by another. The general rule is if the person on the receiving end considers it to be abusive behaviour then it is.)
  • Not turning up on time
  • Dismissing and trivial anything the other person feels strongly about 
  • Talking over others
  • Not offering a drink when in their office for a meeting
  • Working through lunch
  • Only talking about themselves
  • Not asking about the other person's ill partner or child
  • Not allowing any time for rapport building and getting to know each other before a meeting starts 
  • Expecting responses from emails at night or weekends
  • Not listening to other's opinions
  • Not honouring boundaries that have been set
  • Cancelling at short notice
  • Sending urgent emails at 1700 on a Friday with a 0900 Monday deadline for a response
  • Paying less than it costs to provide the service
  • Lying or dishonesty (if there's even a difference between the two) 
  • Reneging on contract terms already agreed and signed
  • and so on
One or many of these, or other examples, may apply for there to be a lack of respect in the eyes of the beholder. Even if the other person has a 'reason' for their behaviour that is, in their opinion, justified, and certainly NOT a sign of disrespect, and would be mortified if anyone suggested they were showing a lack of respect.

Difficult to ensure then that when using such words in values statements that there's a clear agreement by everyone about what behaviours are expected. Yes many values statements have a list of behaviours that aim to show what is meant - I suspect in many cases it wouldn't go to the detail listed above.   

It's not just values statements though where lack of respect might be mentioned. I'm sure it's something often said in contract and relationship management meetings between buyers/suppliers. Without a clear agreement of what is, and isn't, expected it's very easy I'd suggest to disrespect someone without intending to. 


Lack of trust will have has the same infinite list of behaviours that some would define lack of trust as being.
  • Mari Sako differentiated between contractual, competence and goodwill trust
  • In The Speed of Trust Stephen M R Covey differentiated between personal and relationship trust
  • Stephen M R Cover also provided 13 behaviours that were needed to develop trust between 2 parties:
  • Talk straight
  • Demonstrate respect
  • Create transparency
  • Right wrongs
  • Show loyalty
  • Deliver results
  • Get better
  • Confront reality 
  • Clarify expectations
  • Practise accountability 
  • Listen first
  • Keep commitments
  • Extend Trust 
Each behaviour in their own right an opportunity for disagreement over what is, and isn't required.

Is your communication clear, and do misunderstandings arise because of the lack of clarity?

Alison Smith
The Purchasing Coach
Inspiring change inside and out

A previous post considered the different definitions for honesty.

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