Language lessons

Recently I worked on a side project that fell just a bit outside my realm of experience. It wasn’t that I hadn’t done similar things before; I just hadn’t done that particular thing. I viewed it as a surmountable challenge, and I dove in.

I made a few calls, asked a few questions, and got what I needed to move forward: the right words. You see, I knew what I needed to accomplish, but I didn’t know how to talk about it in a way that would make sense to the right people.

So I put myself out there and asked questions. I asked them until I could describe my subject in the vernacular of people in the know. The conversation to get there went something like this:

Me: Hi! I’m working on this project and I need to do XYZ. I also need a bit of an education.

Guy on the phone: Sure. Will you help me understand what you’re looking for?

*He asks as few specific questions, which I answer.*

Guy on the phone: Oh, you need [specific term].

Simple as that. Once I knew what to call my project, I was home free. My Google search results changed dramatically when I knew what to input. I found the right people to contact and could describe the project in their terms. Now I could get things done.

It’s funny how finding a simple key to a situation makes me giddy. And of course, I analyzed the heck out of it so I could boil it down to a couple of key lessons. First, don’t be afraid to ask questions–ask people who know and keep asking them till you get what you need. Second, speaking the right language gets results. When it comes down to it, words do matter.

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Ask yourself

ask yourselfA wonderful thing happened in a meeting I attended last night. Someone asked a question. It wasn’t just any question either; this man admitted that he didn’t understand an issue and asked for it to be explained.

If that doesn’t sound like a big deal to you, consider this. The last time you were in a group setting and didn’t completely get it, did YOU do that? Or did you assume everyone else was on board and you didn’t want to look silly? Did you speak up and say Time out! Can we go over that again? Or did you text a trusted colleague and ask What is he talking about? Did you say This doesn’t completely make sense to me. Where did I get off track? Or did you sit quietly and make plans to do some homework after the meeting?

I know what I normally do.

The funny thing is, when the man at my meeting spoke up, “looking silly” didn’t even cross my mind. My first thought was that I was really glad he asked, because I didn’t completely understand the issue either. My next thought was that he either had a lot of guts or he was really, really comfortable with himself. Either way, I admired him for it.

And you’ll never believe what happened after that. Someone else asked a question. That lead to a really good discussion, which led to a more thorough understanding of the issue all around–and a much better final decision. I learned more in that meeting than in any of its predecessors.

All it took was one question. Don’t be afraid to ask.