The Language of Procurement

Language is a very interesting thing. It is one of the things that separates us as higher thinking animals. It allows us to partake in our daily activities and communications with a depth and ease that we usually take for granted.

Anybody who must work with language barriers will understand the frustrations of trying to communicate basic ideas and information when the recipient does not understand what you are saying. This was driven home to me a few years ago when on a trip to Bulgaria. Whereas in many places I could find somebody who spoke a basic bit of English, I did occasionally find myself in a situation where I attempted to communicate with someone who had no understanding of what I was saying. The few words of Bulgarian I knew were not enough and you start looking to other means of communication.

I will never forget trying to order food from a waitress where neither of us understood a word the other was saying. It resulted in both of us dancing around the table lifting our elbows up and down and making chicken noises.

Result: We got chicken wings for dinner.

That was about as close to a chicken pizza as we were going to get. A similar experience for my wife found her talking to a street vendor where she neither understood his Bulgarian nor he her English. Eventually, they found a compromise whereby they discovered that both had a rudimentary understanding of German and so they conversed that way. Outside of this, many a gesture gave way to words.

I found myself in a similar situation when I started working in the procurement industry a few years ago, whereby I was hit with a barrage of new language – phrases, acronyms and terminology that meant nothing in my mind. It may as well have been in a foreign language. I guess it is its own language. Language comes in many forms and while it is obvious that say French and Italian are two distinct languages, we find smaller variations within a language. A Londoner may find a Geordie hard to understand for example despite both speaking the ‘same’ language. Procurement is no different and has its own ‘speak’.

I no longer bat an eyelid when somebody mentions a CPO or the Sourcing Negotiation Cycle. You get so used to speaking a certain way that you forget when you had to refer to a written list of terms or Google every half a sentence. Even now there are still words or new acronyms that I come across that I have to double check, but thankfully these become less and less common as you become more proficient with the ‘Procurement Speak’.

This terminology does have its reasons. To explain each of these terms takes a few minutes. If you were to do this at every meeting, it would take a considerable amount of time.  one When two professionals who understand the terminology are using the language of procurement, they can get a deeper understanding and exchange far more necessary information in a shorter space of time. Time costs money for many professionals and you don’t want to waste it dancing around the table making chicken noises. If I knew the Bulgarian words for chicken pizza, it would have saved us all some time and embarrassment and ended with a much better deal all round.

Therefore it is critical that every professional involved in procurement needs to speak the lingo. A language barrier at the negotiation table will never end in a good result. It is essential that your procurement team have a thorough understanding of the necessary terminology. Internal teams must be trained up to the correct level to understand these negotiations and the language that they bring. Courses such as those run by the iDDea training academy are a fantastic way to increase the knowledge and proficiency of any procurement professional.

Be the higher thinking and smarter people that you can be, and if in doubt, you can always refer to the iDDea Jargon Buster for help.


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