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#48 - Lost in Translation

Listening to a wonderful client of mine, I had to admit, I couldn’t make sense of what I was hearing. We were speaking the same language, and yet somehow we weren’t.  It took me a while to realize that much was getting lost in translation.  She was saying that something was ‘sick’; it meant it was fantastic. She was also pointing out that she was acting ‘crazy’; it meant she was being her authentic self.

Beyond differences in language due to generations or geography, most of us have our unique way of speaking, using a variety of code words for describing our experience. This is perfectly natural. And at the same time, we don’t want a situation where a speaker is directing words at a confused listener, who’s musing to himself  “I have no idea what he’s talking about”.  Instead, the unwritten objective is to foster a clear, two-way exchange of creative thoughts, through words.
Whether you’re coaching, managing, or collaborating, engaging in genuine conversations is about using a language that builds a two lane bridge between speaker and listener; finding a crucial, and lasting, verbal common ground.

In my years of coaching and through trial and error, I’ve found some very useful ways of accomplishing just that.

1.  Admitting that you don’t understand, and asking them to help you make sense of their world.
  • Me: You mean ’sick’ as in diseased?
  • Client: (Laughter), no ‘sick’ as in rocking it!
  • Me: Glad you clarified!
2.  Listening until you can step into their reality and have a conversation in their language.
  • Me: So proof of innovation is essential to progressing in your career as a RES?
  • Her: Yes, absolutely!
3.  Stopping the internal judging machine that says they’re wrong and you’re right.
  • Wrong: Why does she use a word like ‘crazy’? Surely that’s self-deprecating. I should find a way to correct that.
  • Right: She’s beaming as she speaks of being ‘crazy’? Wonder what  ‘crazy’ means to her.
4.  Waiting for what they’ll say next, without interrupting, or imposing your own logic.
  • Him: Maybe if I ….. (long pause). No, that won’t work…. I think I should…. (long pause). Yes, that’s it! I need to combine teaching and doing to find my happy place! Thank you for your great advice!
  • Me: (smile) …….
When you take the time to understand someone else’s language, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the quick inroads you make in finding that vital common ground. It’s worth taking a detour.  She’ll never forget the time you took to listen. He’ll always appreciate that you made the effort to understand, rather than turn a deaf ear in frustration. 

In the end, my client said she was happy I was ‘crazy’, and felt she could trust me.