When someone says ‘chocolate’, what do you think of?

1 September 2011
Alison Smith, senior purchasing consultant at Future Purchasing and life-coachI was reminded of an exercise I use with groups when in a session with internal stakeholders of a procurement team last week. In the exercise I ask everyone to write the first eight words that come to mind when they hear the word “chocolate”. They then spend some time comparing their answers with others in the room. There is a whole range of possible answers, that could include: Milk, dark, bitter, bake, dog, buttons, sweet, good, bad, healthy, unhealthy, bar, biscuits, strawberries, cocoa, Fairtrade, relaxation, fountain, Labrador, sugar, hot, fattening, present, gift, orange, yucky, yummy. The one word that seems to come up most often is milk, shared by about three-quarters of the group. The second most common word is usually shared with less than half of the people participating in the exercise. Very soon we’re looking as just a small percentage of people sharing a word. Sometimes someone may not share a single word with anyone in the room. Generally most people will have three or four associated words that are unique to them. It’s clear that even for a simple word such as chocolate there are different things going on in our minds when we hear it. It’s this meaning to us that will impact our actions, reactions, words and behaviours and yet we often use words assuming a common understanding. In last week’s meeting I realised everyone on the room had a different interpretation for “procurement”. When the stakeholder heard the phrase “best practice procurement” their interpretation of procurement meant they thought they were already doing it. Continuing to use the word wasn’t going to change that so we had to start using new words that expanded their understanding. New words that (using the CIPS Category Management model for a moment) enabled them to understand in much more detail what was involved in the initiate/prepare, identifying priorities, prepare/present strategy, implementing changes, maintain and improve and enhance stages. The next time you’re not getting the response you’re expecting, it might be that they consider what you’re talking about to be yucky, not yummy.
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