We are all meaning-seeking machines; what I mean by that is we naturally go inside our heads when we hear, read or see something and try to put meaning around it to make it make sense to us.
We are all always naturally seeking the meaning for us, for others, for a situation. So, because of this, you can help others understand you (and themselves), by giving them your meaning. Sometimes it’s useful to let others make up their own minds as to ‘what it means’ but more often than not, it’s more helpful and time-saving to give people that framework.
‘In other words…’, ‘by that I mean…’, ‘so this will mean…’, ‘or we could say…’. Can you hear that by using those phrases (which are very normal and easy on the ear), you naturally offer your listener or reader a bit more information and give them an opportunity to ‘get it’?
Too often people take things as face value and nod thinking ‘Heyho, I’ll have to find out what that means’ or ‘I’ve no idea what was just said but hopefully it won’t matter’. Well it does matter – a lot – when we want to make sure we’re understood and when we’re looking for promotion or more money, we need people to be able to take on our ideas and opinions.
We’re constantly translating what someone has said or done and making our own sense of it. Notice the ‘our own’ sense of it: your sense will be different to mine because we’re all different. What we can do to bridge the difference is offer enough information to make it easy for the other person to understand us. By that I mean clarify or expand a bit.
A prime example: Snowy, my husband and life-long case study, says to me something like ‘Oh, XYZ happened today’ and just stops. Immediately, I hear in my head ‘and?’ or ‘because?’. He now knows to give me one more sentence with some context about ‘why’ or ‘what it means’.
What about your colleagues, boss or clients? They will have similar questions popping up in their heads. So answer the questions naturally; give them the meaning. This means you’ll get clearer about what you think something means. For the other person it may mean something else but they’ll understand you more. As they respond ‘it could also mean’ or ‘actually, I think XYZ’ you’ll find yourselves naturally discussing something that might have just been stated and left hanging without either of you understanding what you meant to say.
Ideas for you to work with:
• Use ‘by that I mean’ , ‘in other words’ or ‘i.e.’ and expressions which immediately tell the other person you’re going to ensure they know what you mean – without patronizing them.
• Notice when someone makes a statement without the context– notice firstly if anyone else asks and if you automatically ask yourself ‘I wonder what they mean by that?’ If you think it’s appropriate and there’s time, ask. ‘Can you just tell me a bit more about that please?’ or ‘what will that mean, please?’ What you are telling people is you don’t just take things at face value, you’re prepared to dig a bit deeper and you want to understand in a naturally inquisitive way.
• You’ll have noticed the ‘please’ – that’s crucial. To avoid your question being confrontational and be information-gathering, the ‘please’ is not only polite but it’s essential. It makes it a request and not a demand. We all respond much more easily to requests and less so to demands, don’t we?
About the author:
Known as the Savvy & Influential Communication Expert, Kay White is hosting a unique 3-day Live Event “Show Up; Sparkle & Be Heard LIVE” in London on 9, 10, 11 June and as a guest of WATC, use the code WATCVIP and take 50% off your seat.
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