Chris Voss, former FBI hostage negotiator and CEO & Founder of the Black Swan Group, says that we can pull the emotion out of a situation with labels. If someone is getting angry, slowly tell them, “it seems like you’re angry.” The person pauses a moment to see if, in fact, that is the case and in the process some of the steam dissipates. 

It’s fascinating stuff and I highly recommend his Masterclass.

It works, in part, because our brain needs a moment to process a label and in that gap some of the charge built into an emotional interchange can dissipate. Our brains love labels, the shortcuts that save us mental processing cycles and allow us to skip ahead to what we really want to say.

Of course, labels don’t always serve us well. I have yet to see a political conversation take place that didn’t include one, or usually both sides, lobbing labels at the other like hand grenades. Many handicapped persons have worked their entire lives to overcome the imagined limitations that came bundled with the label some helpful person applied to them.

We use them in business, too, especially in conversations related to strategy. Two that I see often are Vision and Mission. It’s part of my work to help leaders put their strategies into writing and so I’ve asked for the data behind these two labels many times. In the process, I’ve learned that not everyone sees these things the same way.

One textbook definition of these terms tells us that the vision focuses on tomorrow and what an organization wants to become, while the mission focuses on today and what the organization will do to reach that goal. That is correct and while it helps those in the C-suite fill in the blanks next to these labels, it doesn’t always translate very well to others in the company.

In a recent article on Linkedin, Patrick Leddin, Associate Professor & Associate Director of the Practice of Managerial Studies at Vanderbilt University, wrote about leadership blind spots. He cited research that suggests that only 15% of people can actually name their leaders’ most important goals.

Does it really matter what the company’s vision and mission are if no one in the company knows what they are?

People don’t just want to know where the leader wants to take the company, they also need to know why it’s important that they go there, too. That “why” must be baked into the company’s vision.

Likewise, the mission can’t just be a statement about what the company does. It also has to share something of the “how” so that people will have confidence that it can actually be done. This is part of the work of empowering people to pursue an important goal and the best leaders are expert and getting this job done.

So, what’s the vision for your company and what’s the mission that will get you there? Is it in writing? Can you walk around your company and hear it repeated back to you by your team? If not, I suggest you add these things to your list of New Year’s Resolutions.