- A statement most often attributed to Robert McCloskey, U.S. State Department spokesperson at one of his regular noon briefings during the worst days of the Vietnam War.
The other day I was sitting in our weekly status meeting with about six or seven of the other consultants in my, um, “area of expertise”. (Like doctors, in the consulting world, it’s called a “practice”. Which sorta begs the question: when do we quit practicing and actually, er, get on with it?)
Now, it’s no exaggeration to say this is a pretty smart bunch. Having just joined the practice myself, whenever we get together I try to listen closely so I can learn as much as I can. You know; the ol’ “fly on the wall” bit. It’s a tried-and-true learning technique.
So like I said; I’m sittin’ there, listening to the conversation and taking mental notes. About the, um, only problem was, I had no idea what they were talking about! I mean, some of the terms I understood. And I knew they were talking about a chemical process that had to do with several of our current projects. I got that part, at least.
But as to the specific details of the conversation, well, I felt a lot like ol’ Ginger up there in that hilarious Far Side cartoon. I was reduced to just listening for my name.
Can You Run That By Me Again?
A while back, at a job-networking mixer, I remember once asking some fellow what he did for a living. He responded with a lot of technical jargon that had to do with network configurations, programming languages, and assorted other “computer stuff”. I looked at him and said, “You know, what I just heard was, “Blah, blah, blah, blah!”
Luckily, he laughed. But I think he got my point.
[Note: It was one of those "moments of insanity" I've mentioned before. (It's true: Hello. I'm Bob, and I'm a smart-aleck.) Usually it's kept well under control, but sometimes... well, all I can say is, fortunately it doesn't happen often enough to get me seriously hurt. Nevertheless, don't try this at home!]
On another occasion (same event; different day), I asked to see the resume of a fellow Doc I had just met. After briefly studying all five densely-typed pages, I had to ask him, “OK; but what the heck do you do?” He knew exactly what I meant. Together we were able to rewrite it so it was a bit more readable to those of us who weren’t in his highly specialized area of expertise.
See, many times we get caught up in our own areas of expertise (or maybe we’re just showing off – but that’s a subject for another post), and the language or the terms we use begin to take on more and more specialized meanings.
C’mon, admit it. I’ve done it; you’ve done it; you’ve heard others do it too. So what’s the problem?
Oh, no problem, really. Unless, of course, it begins to exclude others from the conversation. That’s where we might begin to get into trouble. Why? Because nobody likes to be excluded!
See, there’s three parts to every communication. (Actually, there are more, but let’s just focus on these three right now.)
- Words – units of language that carry meaning
- Meaning – content carried by the words
- Context – discourse that surrounds a language unit and helps to determine its interpretation
The thing is, the meaning and context of what we say is just as important as the words we choose to say them with. So when we talk to people; when we write, when we send an email – when we communicate - well, let’s just say we need to be sure we have all three.
Otherwise, it might be just “Blah, blah, blah, blah.”