One of the things I most enjoy in life is a good debate, and luckily I have a friend who shares this interest with me. Sometimes I win and sometimes he does, but there is a constant theme that runs through every discussion we have. We call it “setting the terms.”

People can’t communicate properly unless they’ve agreed on a definition for the various words and concepts they’re discussing. For example, my friend and I recently debated the nature of indigenous cultures and who has the right to classify them as “primitive.”

We argued for 30 minutes without either of us gaining an advantage. Suddenly, he took a left turn and asked, “When you use the term ‘primitive,’ what exactly do you mean?”

Once I explained what I understood the word to convey, he replied that if he were using my definition, he would agree with every statement I had made. However, in his mind, “primitive” had an alternative meaning. We then realized we had been talking at cross purposes because the actual words we were using conveyed different things to each of us.

An important key to the ongoing health of any relationship lies in this process of setting the terms. This is especially true in business.

Every firm needs to have companywide agreement on the exact meaning of certain, larger-than-life words. Some examples are “success,” “ethics” and “excellence.”

Though I don’t suggest anyone engage in long, philosophical debates with their employees, I do recommend you spend a few minutes with each member of your staff and ask them to explain what they can do to ensure their own success, as well as how they define success for your company.

This simple exercise will help you to guide your firm as well as assist you in choosing future leaders within your company

Erika Taylor
Erika Taylor