Landmines of language: Assuming and vague words

By SteveDrozdeck

Drozdeck & Assoc.


If I ask you to think of a rose, I am likely to get any one of many possible responses. Some people see a red rose, others an old flame of the same name, some a yellow rose and so on. The point is that a word will produce a different internal image or idea for each person.

For instance, if a customer complains about the service on an office copier, you might think he is referring to an incomplete maintenance effort. But he may mean that the response time is too long between his call for service and the arrival time of the technician. Or, he may mean that you don't personally take his phone call. To know what the word "service" means, you would have to ask for his definition, or you'll probably respond to the wrong issue.

Remember: "If there is a chance of a miscommunication, it pays to ask."

Read a few lines about a common situation:

A little girl was playing in the street of her neighborhood. She heard the bell of the ice cream truck. She stopped what she was doing and ran home for money.

What is going on in the story? When asking audiences, we find that most believe that the little girl wanted ice cream and ran home for money to buy it. However, that is an intuitive interpretation, since the idea is not explicitly stated in the story. It is a conclusion based on a personal assumption.

Intuition is one of our most vital personal resources. It lets us sense what is going on and what to do. Yet, to make sure the little girl wants ice cream, you have to ask her. After all, the truck bell may have reminded her to go to the store to do an errand. Your intuition can be right, but it can also be wrong. Even context can be an unreliable indication of what is really going on in the other person's mind. The best way to test your accuracy is to verify with a question.

Words are labels.

Just as context can prove unreliable, you'll find that words themselves are unreliable until you probe for the meaning. People tend to assume that everyone has the same meaning. As you will see, they don't. Occasionally, it becomes important to discover the specific meaning.

The concept words are labels will be explored more fully in a forthcoming article.

Above material taken from "What They Don't Teach You in Sales 101,” by Steven Drozdeck, et all.