6 Month Mark Today!

To start with a bit of justified awe, I started working at ICMA all the way back in May; it is genuinely difficult for me to believe that today marks the beginning of November.  I have been enrolled in anywhere from 1 to 3 graduate courses while working at ICMA during this time, so it has certainly been a busy period of time for me.  During that time, I have been able to pick out many of the nuances of the 40 hour/week+ working world in general, and of linguistics in specific: that is why for this post, I would like to discuss how sometimes, people say:

but do not necessarily make a clear point.  Given all of my prior internship experience, and the aspects of my current job that rely upon electronic communications with internal and external parties, I specifically refer to this problem when it happens in emails and perhaps through publications, and have a few suggestions on how to deal with this problem (philosophy education, to the rescue!).

We all get emails at times from other people where the rhetoric at work is pleasant, and it seems to make some very good points, but then we realize that the point made is actually hidden beneath unnecessary use of language (George Carlin hits on this point too, in a bit he did on language).  There are a few tricks in figuring out when the meaning is hidden behind a wall of buzz words, and I will offer some of them here:

1) If you’re getting frustrated with an unclear email or other communication, step aside for a minute and think of the author of the email as looking like the emote above (as drawn from here), when they composed what they sent.  Not only will the humor of that guy (or something else that also lampoons unclear language, I don’t mind – the George Carlin bit referenced above could also work great) help refocus your attention when you get back to it, it will also give you a clean break of at least a minute before taking a second look at the same content.

2) Take the time to transmute specific language use into more clear meaning – at a previous job a few years ago, I was once told the following by a fellow employee: “Do you mind if I query you later about the deliverables for the upcoming collaboration session, and then we can figure out best practices?”  My brain’s immediate reaction was to shut down to prevent further trauma to myself, but I had to respond on the spot.  After many seconds of my brain’s best scientists and linguists working on this issue, I came to realize that the above grammatical monstrosity was actually a question asking about what the meeting later that day was about, and how to best set it up.  While I have no good answer or explanation for why the question was phrased like that, I can tell you that a viable strategy for dealing with such incomprehensible statements can be done stealthily, by starting your answer with “well, I was thinking…” and then using the expected pause to figure out what the heck was just asked or said.

3) If it is electronic communication or a phone message, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification!!  There is absolutely nothing unprofessional or negative whatsoever in asking to make sure your understanding of a given statement(s) matches the intended meaning of your interlocutor.  I receive constant emails at work from users of our website who have questions and/or concerns about how to properly use the site.  Sometimes, people can feel uncomfortable about asking at all, so they couch their questions in terms related to technology (but not necessarily the website we have).  Case in point – someone who emailed me asked why their “ability to interface with the database wasn’t properly functioning,” and I had no idea which database they were referring to (as our database is only for internal use).  Taking a guess, I helpfully suggested in my response email “oh, you mean your ability to search for other users,” and she responded affirmatively, allowing me to help her with that concern.  Even if your initial guess/suggestion is not accurate, it will at least start a dialog to reach a shared understanding!

These are only a few of the ideas that came to mind, but I am sure that many of you are familiar with this phenomenon.  Whatever the cause of the buzz word bonanza from others, just remember: stay calm, mentally outline the statement, and picking out the meaning IS possible.  One of the benefits of working at ICMA thus far has been clarity of communication with many of my coworkers, and specifically with my boss.  I spoke to this in a previous post here, that there are some VERY different expectations between people when communicating, but thankfully, both my boss and I prefer being direct and honest from the start, which has led to a very successful working relationship.  Even though many other things have gone well during my time at ICMA, the best part has been the ability to be direct and open with my boss, and receive the same in return.  It is sometimes amazing how refreshing and useful clarity of communication can be!