The first thing you need to do in any risk conversation

You say either and I say either

You say neither and I say neither

Either, either, neither, neither

Let’s call the whole thing off

Let’s call the whole thing off” George and Ira Gershwin

It’s good to have an idea of what you are going to be talking about before you start any discussion, but this is vitally important when you are talking about risk.  The word is used conversationally and technically in lots of different ways so we need to be clear that we are all speaking the same language to avoid confusion later on.

This can become a huge problem in a technical setting where we all think we are taking the same language. Unfortunately, this often isn’t the case.

I saw this first hand on a large risk assessment project a few years back. After several months collecting information and building risk assessments for each part of the project, we gathered to combine our findings. Half-way through the meeting, someone raised their hand to say that they had been using a different set of definitions and a slightly different risk assessment process. This was incompatible with everyone else’s work so we had to go back and try to unpick all of his data and revise it before we could go on.

Worst of all, we could have avoided this whole issue if we hadn’t assumed that we were all talking the same language. We should have clarified terms at the outset.

There are five commonly used risk management references and dozens more regulations, guidelines or company-specific processes.  Many of these will have a different definition for risk and its various components. Worst of all, some of these differences will appear quite subtle but make a big difference.

So the first thing you need to do is check you are using the same language.  Ask ‘how are you defining risk?’ or ‘help me understand what you mean by that?’.

If you are using a specific standard or regulation, just refer to that but make sure everyone puts aside their own ‘pet preferences’ and sticks with what’s in the reference. And don’t forget to orientate new project members or to explain the terms to anyone you are sharing the results with.

So get everyone onto the same page as early as possible, make sure you are speaking the same language and you will save yourself a lot of time and effort in the long-term.

Have you come across this problem? Share your thoughts below.

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