How To Avoid The Hazards Of Treadmill Verbs

Look around you. Listen to the conversations. Read pretty much any meeting agenda. What will you find? Lots of people discussing, reporting, communicating, and reviewing – activities described by what I call treadmill verbs.

Why do I call them that?

Because you can discuss, report, communicate, and review forever! You can also update, share, respond, and explain forever! There is no way to know when you are finished. It’s like running on a treadmill. You can always run a little farther. You can always talk a little longer. Here are just some of the many treadmill verbs that invite endless talking:

  • Discuss
  • Report
  • Communicate
  • Review
  • Update
  • Explain
  • Respond
  • Write
  • Share
  • Describe

Without a destination, there is no way to know when you have arrived.

The Value Of Destination Verbs

Destination verbs, on the other hand, demand an outcome:

  • Decide
  • Resolve
  • Plan
  • List
  • Confirm
  • Approve
  • Ask
  • Answer

Destination verbs drive outcomes because it is easy to know when you are done. You’ve either made a decision or you haven’t. You’ve either approved, listed, answered, resolved, or confirmed, or you haven’t. The state of being done is easily recognized and you can move on. You’ve made discernible progress.

Once you eliminate treadmill verbs from your vocabulary, you will be flying from destination to destination. Meanwhile, those speaking in treadmill verbs will still be reviewing, updating, and communicating with little clear idea of what it means to be done.

In Pursuit Of Latham’s Six Outcomes

To simplify the situation further, here are Latham’s Six Outcomes. These six are the only outcomes that add up to real progress:

  • A decision
  • A plan
  • A problem resolution
  • A list needed as input to one of the above
  • Confirmation
  • Authorization

That’s about it! Decisions, plans, and problem resolutions create progress. Tangible, measurable, discernible progress.

When you’ve made a decision, you are done. It’s obvious. When you have a plan in hand, you are done. When you’ve resolved a problem, you are done. These aren’t treadmills. These are tangible milestones.

Progress is also discernible if you list important inputs needed to achieve any of the first three of Latham’s Six Outcomes. For example, establishing a list of objectives to guide a decision represents tangible progress. Making a list of resources or assignments can be vital input for a plan. Identifying a list of possible causes is essential for problem solving. In all of these examples, when you’ve made your list, you are done! That’s clear progress!

Note: If you aren’t clear about the lists needed as inputs to decision making, planning, and problem solving, learn how to SOAR through Decisions, DRAW Your Plan, and SPOT Problem Remover.

Back to Latham’s Six Outcomes. Sometimes the desired outcome needs to be nothing more than confirmation. This is the fifth of Latham’s Six Outcomes. Seeking confirmation goes something like this: “This is what I am trying to accomplish, this what I’ve done so far, and this is what I’m going to do next. Am I on the right track?”” The only valid response to a query such as this is:

  • Yes
  • No
  • Would you like to talk about … (one of the aspects of your decision, plan, or problem resolution)?

Notice that the third response invokes another Yes or No and not an immediate discussion. Think about all the times a lack of clarity has transformed a simple request for confirmation into a lengthy unplanned and unnecessary discussion where someone fills your ear with information you already have or, on the flip side, aren’t ready to receive. Has this happened to you?

The sixth of Latham’s Six Outcomes is “May we proceed?” Authorization is just as straight-forward as Confirmation. It also should produce one of three responses:

  • Yes
  • No
  • I need to understand more about your … (decision, plan, or problem resolution).

If you want results, you need to speak the Language of Outcomes. You can’t discuss, communicate, review, and report. Decide what decisions, plans, and problem resolutions you need and ask for them! Decide if you need confirmation or authorization and ask for it! If you aren’t working towards one of Latham’s Six outcomes, where are you going?

Eliminate treadmill verbs from your vocabulary. Replace them with destination verbs. Ensure that every conversation, email, or document moves you one step closer to one of Latham’s Six Outcomes. Get off the treadmill and start speaking the Language of Outcomes! With this first step, your journey to clarity begins and, along with it, dramatically improved productivity, performance, and profits.

This article first appeared on Forbes, December 12th, 2017.

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