Tip 19: Be Clear with Your Prospective Partner on the Terms You Use

In the previous chapter, we have established the importance of having a clear internal definition of strategic alliances, of making sure that the people within your organization are on the same page with you as to what a strategic alliance means.

In the same light, it’s also essential to be clear with your partner on what you mean with the terms you use. Like in the example given in the previous chapter, the term “joint venture” is known to have a different meaning to different people. Coming from a corporate background, people tend to have the perception that a joint venture is a separate entity where two or more companies are jointly holding the shares. However, coming from a small business background, people tend to think that a joint venture is a joint project between two small businesses and that this collaboration will last as long as the project lasts. Clearly, these are two different perceptions for the same term.

Similarly, many companies use abbreviations in their organization and in their sector. When you are in the same sector, there is a chance that you connect the same meaning to an abbreviation. But that doesn’t always necessarily happen. When I worked for IBM, we used to have a tool on the intranet called “whatis.” With this tool, you could fire off a question to the tool to find the meaning of an abbreviation. Many times, “whatis” came back with more than one meaning to one abbreviation; in some cases, it even came up with six different meanings for another. If a company as large as IBM already has so many different meanings for a single term, then how will it be if you are from outside a company and you’re looking to partner with that company?

When I am involved in assignments with a client that brings me to conversations with the partner, it’s relatively easy for me as an outsider to name the elephant in the room. Partners aren’t always frank enough to ask what a term they just used means for the other party. Being an outsider myself, I see this happen quite often. I can play dumb by asking the question for clarification. I can easily mention that the term just used is unclear to me, and I can ask if they can clarify what they mean by it. Many times, I have seen the body language from the partner relaxing after my question. Obviously, the term was not completely clear with them, either.

Being an outsider with my clients, I may find it easy to ask for clarification. But for the companies who are looking to partner together, it is essential to clarify the terms used in case of any doubt. Better ask, look dumb and avoid confusion rather than assume you know the term and later on realize that your partner meant something completely different. Clarity precedes mastery!

Agreeing on a clear definition of the terms you use with your partner removes many obstacles to communication and pushes your partnership or alliance forward more smoothly.

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