Why What You Call it Matters

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” wrote William Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet.  If a rose were called a Lungwort* or Toad Lily*, it might smell the same, but wouldn’t evoke the same sense of romance.  Words evoke emotions.  What you call something matters.  That’s true in love and also in compliance.

Sometimes we unwittingly use words that turn off our audience.  We might use words that are common in our industry, but don’t resonate with our business colleagues or stakeholders.  Depending on your company culture, you may consider swapping out one of the following terms for something more user-friendly.

“Conflicts of Interest”

The Cambridge English Dictionary defines “conflict” as “an active disagreement between people with opposing opinions or principles.”  Sometimes “conflict” is used as a euphemism for “war.”  Conflict is definitely not a friendly word.  In fact, the requirement to “declare” a conflict may, in and of itself, make many people uncomfortable. 

What might work better?  A friend of mine ran a compliance program for a multi-national company with over 20,000 employees.  Year after year, only about 30 conflicts of interest were registered.  When polling employees, she found that the word “conflict” evoked negative connotations.  She changed the name to “Declaration of Relationships.”  Even though the process was the same, reporting improved dramatically.