Unspoken Dictionaries

In my experience, most work conflicts happen because all parties involved have not level-set definitions.


Your new manager tells you that he/she needs something by end of day tomorrow. You say “no problem” and you get it to him/her at 10 pm PT the next day. The end of your day.

Later you find out:

A. End of day to your manager meant end of close of business: 5 pm, not 10 pm.

B. By the way, you’re on the west coast, your manager is on east coast time. So that means you should have sent it by 2 pm PT.

Now, your manager is stewing because you delivered said thing 8 hours late. You’re confused as to why your manager is angry because you believed that you had an agreement.

You’re both at fault in this situation, because neither of you defined what “end of day” meant.

When you work with someone for an extended period of time, you develop an unspoken dictionary to level-set how certain words and phrases are defined. But when you work with someone new, your unspoken dictionary and their unspoken dictionary may become obsolete, and you need to write a new one together.

It’s comforting, and important to have the same dictionary, but it’s also important to add new words to it every now and then. And maybe put it on the bookshelf every now and again and create another version by working with, and seeking out, people who may be different than you.

Diversify your dictionary collection. Remember, Webster’s adds new words every year…if they can, surely you can. And you are the master of your dictionaries – who says Webster’s is the end all, and be all, of all dictionaries? Not an objective truth.

I think there’s a Girl Scout song about making new friends, but keeping the old ones, which applies well to this situation…but I didn’t graduate Girl Scouts, so 🤷🏾‍♀️

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