Beware the ‘suitcase words’!

scrabble tiles, suitcase words

Words matter. A lot.

It’s so important to communicate in such a way that we can reach and connect with other people, right? We all want to be understood the way we intended.

“No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.”  John Keating

And yet, we can so easily misunderstand each other, as we all interpret words, sentences and even situations differently. We all have different lenses through which we observe and make sense of the world.  And those lenses are made up by our unique experience; the challenges and opportunities we’ve faced, the insights we’ve had, the people we’ve met.

So, our ability to communicate with others is definitely one to focus on and keep developing, to ensure we are truly understood the way we intended to.

The challenge with ‘suitcase words’

‘Suitcase words’ can be a great communicative tool, as they can include so much, but that’s also the reason why they should be used with care. So, what are ‘suitcase words’? They are BIG words that could contain/mean all sorts of things – they don’t just have one clear meaning.

Here are a few examples:

  • Leadership
  • Intelligence
  • Digital
  • Value
  • Right
  • Wrong

If you look at those words, can you straight away say what they mean through a crisp, clear definition? Probably not. And even if you think you could, would those definitions match everyone else’s? Definitely not.

And yet we often use these words expecting them to make sense to others. So, next time you use a ‘suitcase word’, think through what it means to you and what it is you want to convey to others. Your idea of “right” and “wrong” could be completely different to the other person’s, for example.

“Words are containers for power, you choose what kind of power they carry.” Joyce Meyer

The power of ‘suitcase’ words

There are also times when ‘suitcase words’ can be very powerful and useful.

When you don’t want to give someone all the answers, but want them to explore a subject further, using their own creativity and interpretation, then these words are great on their own, without further definition. They can ignite excellent dialogues and new insights.

One such example which we recently observed was when a team wanted to think about ways they could bring real value to the company, so they decided to brainstorm what value could mean beyond what they were already doing. Here are just a few of the ways they identified they could bring more value:

  • Ask their stakeholders what their needs are – and what value means to them
  • Be proactive in sharing knowledge and ideas
  • Be active participants in conference calls and meetings
  • Review work practices to identify overlaps and unnecessary rework

And by going through that process of ‘suitcase word’ exploration, they were able to go beyond assumptions of what value was and benefit from the collective intelligence of the whole team to add more value than before.

What are your thoughts on ‘suitcase words’? How much do you use them? When is it helpful and when not? And do you have a favourite ‘suitcase word’ – and if so, what does it mean to you?

Mandy Flint & Elisabet Hearn featuredAbout the authors

Mandy Flint & Elisabet Vinberg Hearn, multi-award-winning authors of “Leading Teams – 10 Challenges: 10 Solutions” and ”The Team Formula”.

Their latest book “The Leader’s Guide to Impact” published April 2019 by Financial Times International is an in-depth practical guide to creating the impact you want. 

You can download a free chapter of the book at www.2020visionleader.com

Praise for “The Leader’s Guide to Impact” – “If there is one book you read on leadership, this is it. It’s jam-packed with practical tips, stories and frameworks to help you to be the best leader you can possibly be by taking control of your impact on those around you. Elisabet and Mandy hit the leadership nail on the head every time! I wish this book was around 20 years ago!”  Vanessa Vallely, OBE, Managing Director, WeAreTheCity, author, “Heels of Steel”

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