In my article, ‘What are they talking about?‘, I suggested that when someone says something you don’t understand, don’t be afraid to say so and to ask for clarification. Shortly after posting this little nugget of wisdom, my friend Eric called me to see if I had time for a chat over a coffee. I had not seen him in some time and was delighted for the call and a chance to catch up with him. He had lots on the go and I wanted all the juicy details.
Early on in our conversation, he began to tell me about an exciting prospect he was hoping would come together for him. It involved working with a very interesting and accomplished man on a fascinating project overseas.
Eric: This guy is amazing Gil! He has enjoyed a tremendous career and is a Prophet Western.
Me: (thinking .. huh.. a Prophet Western?) Excuse me Eric, a Prophet Western?
Eric: Yes, that’s right! I am really hoping that we get the opportunity to work together and that ….
Me: (totally befuddled now) I’m sorry Eric. I don’t understand! A Prophet Western? As opposed to an Eastern Prophet?
Eric: (now laughing heartily) Nooooo .. he is a Professor at the University of Western Ontario! A Prof at Western!
Me: (blushing a bit) I knew that!
As silly as this may seem, I have witnessed this type of misunderstanding on many occasions. Worse, I have also witnessed the results of not having the misunderstanding clarified. In the example above, had I not asked Eric to shed some light on my confusion, I might have assumed that Eric was embarking on some kind of deep spiritual journey. A Prophet Western evokes a very different mental image than does a Prof at Western!
Whether the word is spoken or in writing, if you don’t understand it, ask for or seek out its actual meaning. I have seen seasoned executives make catastrophic errors in judgment due to such misunderstandings often leading to loss of business and huge embarrassment. As happened with Eric, I would much rather blush a little bit by asking a question than to go off telling our mutual friends that I believe he will soon be working with a Prophet!
Some years ago, my wife my super fantastic and wonderful wife Colleen and I were discussing some things we needed to accomplish over the next few days. Neither of us was feeling very energetic as we were both fighting a cold at the time. When I suggested that we look after one of those things right away, the ensuing conversation took place.
Colleen: Why don’t we do that tomorrow?
Me: We should do it now. Tomorrow will have its own challenges.
Colleen: (beginning to laugh) What did you say?
Me: (wondering what’s so funny) I said, tomorrow will have its own challenges.
Colleen: (now in hysterics) Please .. umm .. HUH???
Me: (now laughing very hard but still not understanding why!) I said, tomorrow will have its own challenges. What’s so funny about that?
Colleen: (barely able to speak for laughing so hard) I thought you said, tomorrow we’ll have orange sandwiches!!!
Since that day, whenever we know that there are difficulties ahead, we lighten the moment by saying …
“Yes, tomorrow we’ll have orange sandwiches!”