How often have you been in a meeting and not understood everything that’s being said?
It’s like it’s all in French, but you took Spanish:
“We’ll need a BVI SPV for the IYLD ETF with 5% yield which is top quartile S&P 500 Growth. Have we got the LOI ready for COB EDT?”.
Corporate Martian can be impenetrably difficult to understand, especially when it’s being rattled off with real time ease & grace and there’s no duolingo to cram up with.
It’s not just corporate land. Every single area of life has its own language. From medicine, to publishing to law each have their own worlds of jargon which those in the know know and well others, don’t. Jargon is the antithesis of inclusion; it’s exclusive by design. Like a couple whispering sweet nothings to each other in their own brand of loved up gibberish. And like those lovers, those in the know feel drawn to each other as they love how quickly they just “get” each other. I know, I love it too. But a few years ago I saw the dangers of acting like star crossed corporate lovers.
Some eminent litigators came in to present on a new market trend. They had fun rattling off their court room war stories to us. The problem (for us!) was they did all of it in their loved up gibberish (sorry, clever jargon). With their lingo and inside joke repartee flying over our heads as they enjoyed their flight down litigation memory lane. Meanwhile, they were TOTALLY oblivious to the fact that they had left all of their wannabe passengers behind!
Until I stopped the meeting. “Wait a second, we don’t know what you’re talking about”! “What does xyz mean?”. I wasn’t willing to be an unwilling participant in a re run of Frasier. It was pointless. We didn’t have a hope of learning anything new and I’m not great at wasting time.
Yup. I’ll happily ask “stupid questions”. “Sorry, back up a second, what did you mean by…?”… Sometimes I get back “sorry I don’t understand your question?”… “You know… can we go back 5 seconds, what did you MEAN by…[insert “simple” snazzy abbreviation used to make the meeting quicker but no one understands what they mean apart from the “few in the know” so the efficiency seems rather pointless]….
And sometimes I wait for others to ask……. but why would they? Not everyone has my “question everything” mentality (which apparently was quite annoying when I was a child, sorry mum!). We’ve been trained to keep quiet. To show respect to people in positions of power (from your dr/lawyer/coach/teacher/elder/spiritual leader/police/lord/lady/master), not to question them. Dr knows best after all. So, it can feel really risky to put up your hand and ask a question as you think you might look foolish or worse.
So, we sit there languishing in the painful belief that we’re the only one who doesn’t understand what’s going on, and that’s not true. The TRUTH IS 1/ I’d put my money on the fact that if YOU don’t understand something being said, it’s HIGHLY likely others don’t either; and 2/ you’re not stupid. Something’s just being badly explained. Let’s stop judging ourselves for not understanding and instead ask for better information so that we can.
People don’t mean to be arrogant, they just delight in their own knowing and sometimes assume we know it too. And that’s a wonderful thing, and I love that you know all of this stuff, but if you’re sharing information with me, please do it in a way where I have a hope of understanding you. And, if that’s not your aim, what is it (too prove to yourself how clever & unique you are?). Modern leadership demands more of us than this. Modern leadership requires that you, the presenter, present information to us in a way in which we can understand it AND feel safe to question it.
So if you’re the presenter, maybe think about your intention for the meeting ahead of time. Think about the language you’ll use and don’t assume everyone speaks the same language as you. Use language as a bridge to help others to meet you where you are, not as a wall to keep them out.
And dear listener, there REALLY is no such thing as a stupid question. I have stopped counting the number of times people have come up to me after a meeting to thank me for asking mine as they didn’t understand it either. These are CLEVER people. They didn’t know either. But they also didn’t ask.
You don’t have to stop meetings and be a drama queen like me to get closer to the truth! I can be subtle too, promise. So, I always jot down my questions in a journal as the meeting goes along. Then, after, I’ll follow up- “Can I ask a couple of questions? I’m interested in X and I’d love to understand it better”. Most people LOVE talking about their specialist area and would be happy to answer any question you have and tell more. So it’s win/win really.
If we want to rebuild better we have to get more comfortable being uncomfortable and garner our courage to question the powers that be. The problem was never that we’re stupid, but we do need to be more willing to feel foolish more of the time and question what needs to be questioned.
As Shakespeare said “A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool”. So I humbly ask, anyone fancy being a fool with me?
P.S. feel free to ask me anything! …..
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