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Define your Key Terms

Define Your Key Terms

Define Your Key Terms

It is important to specify the meaning of any ill-defined, or ambiguous word, or phrase.

To some degree, almost all words are vague and ambiguous. There are thousands of words and phrases that are often used, but ill-defined.

I would like to draw to your attention, that we have a problem when we use words and phrases that are often used, but ill-defined:

Often used, but ill-defined words and phrases, cause problems.

They cause problems because we think we know what we mean when we utter them, but under closer examination we discover that our words and phrases are not as clear to us as we first thought.

Examples of often used, but ill-defined words and phrases, include:

  • Being happy.
  • Wealthy.
  • Successful.
  • Professional.
  • Fair.

If you asked people to define these words, then each person might have an answer that is radically different from the next person. In addition, each person may have a different answer to the same question, on different days.

For example, if you want to be happy, you first must know what happiness is. Is happiness owning a house, a fast car, a fat bank account, or looking good, or being physically fit? Or is it worldwide fame, or is happiness merely a state of mind?

A second example, if you want to be treated fairly, then what does that mean? What does it mean to treat people fairly? Does it mean treating people the same? Does it mean treating people according to their individual performance, or does fairness mean treating people according to their individual needs, or does it mean treating people the way you, yourself, would like to be treated?

There are many different ways of thinking about fairness and the other often used, but ill-defined words. So, when you write down a goal that is ill-defined; something that is open to multiple interpretations, or is over generalised, then it is important that you spend some time defining what you really mean, when you state or imagine your goal.

If you write down as your goal that you want to find your ideal job, then you need to define exactly, what that means to you. Write a paragraph. Write two paragraphs.

If you want to have a better relationship with a loved one, then write down exactly what you mean when you say "Better relationship".

When you come up against words or phrases that are ill-defined, don't let them pass unchallenged. Stop and discover their exact meaning. Ask yourself, when you say, BLANK, what do you mean specifically? Then write a paragraph.

Another way of gaining more clarity is to ask, "How would you know when you had achieved the goal? What would you see, hear, touch or taste or smell or feel"?

How would you verify that you are happy? How would you know that you were wealthy? What would you hold to be the test?

Here are four questions that will help you to define your meaning: Please use them:

  1. When you say, BLANK, what do you mean specifically?
  2. How would you know, when the goal is achieved, what would you see, hear, touch, taste, smell or feel?
  3. What would you hold to be the test for BLANK?
  4. How do you define the concept: What are its three or four distinguishing characteristics?

For example, if you wanted to define, 'My ideal house', you might ask any one or any combination of these questions.

If a person said, "my goal is to live in my ideal house", you might ask yourself any, or all, of the following four questions:

  1. When you say IDEAL HOUSE, what do you mean specifically?
  2. How would you know your IDEAL HOUSE if you saw it? What would you see, hear, touch, taste, smell or feel?
  3. What is the test you have for an IDEAL HOUSE?
  4. What are the three or four distinguishing characteristics of your IDEAL HOUSE?

Get the idea?

It is important to specify the meaning of any ill-defined or ambiguous word or phrase.

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Do you ever think to yourself, "I know what I mean, but I can't explain it"? You need to be able communicate facts, feelings, information and ideas, in a clear, professional and confident manner. If you want to learn more about our communication skills training, please click here.

About the Author: Chris Farmer

Chris

Chris Farmer is the founder of the Corporate Coach Group and has many years’ experience in training leaders and managers, in both the public and private sectors, to achieve their organisational goals, especially during tough economic times. He is also well aware of the disciplines and problems associated with running a business.

Over the years, Chris has designed and delivered thousands of training programmes and has coached and motivated many management teams, groups and individuals. His training programmes are both structured and clear, designed to help delegates organise their thinking and, wherever necessary, to improve their techniques and skills.

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