“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

The language we use when describing people, situations, and things is important.  I remember growing up and being told that sticks and stones could break my bones but names can never hurt me.  But, we all know that is not true.  Words hold meaning for people and sometimes that meaning is negative.  Other times it is ambiguous.  I’ve been thinking about this lately as I’m watching how the terminology we use in human resources can help or hinder the activities that we are responsible for.

Take the word engagement, for example.  Engagement from an employee standpoint is confusing.  It can have a vastly different meaning for each employee in an organization.  Some do not even know what it means.  But, when we pair that word with the word survey, we expect that employees will understand that leaders want to know how connected the employee is to the organization.  Since words do have an effect on perceptions though, I’ve started to think of other more clear words to describe what I’m looking for.  If you tell an employee that the employee engagement survey is designed to be a performance review they give the organization, they “get” it.

So, what do we do knowing that?  Throw it out when talking to employees.  We could also get rid of “total rewards” and probably several others.  Save those words for talking with other HR pros.

No matter what profession you work in, there will always be terms that flow from your lips easily that other people do not understand.  Be mindful of this.  If you really care about people understanding what you’re trying to tell them or what you’re trying to accomplish, be clear and use more general terms and phrases they can relate to.  After all, it’s about getting people to do what you need them to do or to understand what you need them to understand.  Don’t let your words be your barrier.