Ever ask someone something and been answered ‘Probably’. Not ‘yes’ or ‘no’ but ‘probably’. What were your expectations? What assumptions did you make? How likely is it that you will get what you asked? During training sessions I have often asked the group to write down what percentage likelyhood is attached to the word ‘probably’. I have gotten anything from probably means something is 20% likely to happen (I fear this person has been disappointed often in life!) to 99%.
What is your understanding of the word ‘probably’? Think it’s the same as your colleagues? Ever checked?
Our understanding of words is impacted by the society we live in, our families…our workplaces…and ourselves. Often we use language that seems to be understandable but have elements of flexibility in their meaning. However, the consequences of this can be wide ranging. You hear ‘probably’ and you assume that its more likely than not to happen but perhaps the person delivering the message had a different understanding of the word?
What about the line ‘I’m almost finished’? What does that mean? How close to being finished is the person saying this? What about ‘Not very often’? How many times is ‘not very often’?
So much of our everyday language is non-exact. We believe we know the meaning because they are familiar words but do we understand them int he same way other people do. When we are providing instructions and giving feedback, it is vital that we are understood, in fact communication of any kind does not exist without understanding.
What happened the last time you misunderstood a message because of the language that was used? How do you prevent someone misunderstanding what you mean?
WATCH POINT – Do you use ‘As soon as possible’ at the bottom of emails? What does that mean? As soon as possible to you may not be the same as for the person you are sending it to. They may prioritise differently to you. If you need something completed quickly, but a deadline. That was your communication is clear and expectations are managed!!