Never just nod and smile

My mother-in-law grew up in the hills and hollers of Kentucky and Tennessee, and when we met I hadn’t ventured far outside of Pittsburgh. The closest I had come to hearing anyone speak like her was seeing Sissy Spacek in the movie Coal Miner’s Daughter.

In those early days I often didn’t know whether Roe was talking about a kitchen “tile” or “towel,” whether she wanted a “pin” or a “pen.” I was shy teenager, so I would just nod and smile. Later I would ask my boyfriend what she meant.

Even when we speak the same language, communication can break down. In the workplace the “dialect” difference might be reflected in how departments phrase things.

Within the same hospital “ED” might refer to the emergency department or a condition treated by Viagra. When one group says it needs something Tuesday, it means when they walk in the door that morning. Another group means by the end of the day Tuesday.

In the workplace the costs of miscommunication can include accidents, missed deadlines, wasted work and angry customers. Never just nod and smile—ask for clarification.

Share your example of miscommunication at work.

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2 responses to “Never just nod and smile

  1. Our particular team had an expression that meant ‘a broad, general overview of something’ – the phrase was ‘at 30,000 feet’. So, if someone asked you to do some research and prepare a paper on a particular technology ‘at 30,000 feet’, it meant just get enough information on it to explain the basic concepts. A new guy came on board and he was asked to do some research on radio antennas at 30,000 feet. Two weeks later he came back and said, “Well, I’ve looked and looked and I just can’t find any cases where a radio antenna is 30,000 feet tall.’ It’s a good thing we all had a good laugh out of it because it cost the company a couple of thousand dollars.

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