Ep43: When Words Go Awry

28 minutes

When you enter a new environment or talk to someone who isn’t as intimately familiar to yourself as you are, it can be hard to navigate the language gap. Even when you think you know what someone means, words can mean considerably different things in different contexts, and to different people. 

In this episode, we talk about navigating conversations where you can’t even rely on the English language for clarity.  And we do it using Star Trek references.

Why is that important for business?

When something (or someone) is new, we often don’t have the vocabulary to even begin to ask – or answer – questions. This may mean unique language used in a new industry, but it can also happen when you use commonly understood words, for which differing context or perspective changes the meaning. And sometimes we think we know what a word means, but our understanding is incomplete. It is important, then, when entering a new environment or navigating a fraught one, to poke around for the words that mean something in this particular space.

A way to do this is to dispense with the words and focus on the stories. By using stories, or even metaphors, you can ensure you are clear on what you are understanding, and what is being understood. Because you can’t always trust that the language matches up.

This is especially true when emotions are higher - we tend to have less nuanced hearing skills in such situations. It is important, when you see someone have a reaction to words, to clarify what they are reacting to.

Words are almost worse for communicating than anything else. Stories, metaphors, visual representations, and body language are often more useful. And it is easier to validate understanding than when you only use words.

Language means different things in different place and with different people. If you find yourself frustrated, as a leader, with how your team follows directions, the first place to look is at the clarity of your words, and the gap between what you wanted, and what they understood.  Paint a picture of what you mean instead of just using words. 


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