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I love those memes running around the Internet about grammar and how its misuse can accomplish all kinds of mischief, from sending the wrong signals to “killing grandma.”
Joking aside, our language (either spoken and written) can reveal critical clues about the people with whom we are working and give us insight into their priorities. This is especially true when you encounter those folks who make you scratch your head and ask whether you are both talking about the same topic, or clients or co-workers to whom you have to answer.
So the next time you read or hear something from them that sounds a little off, see if one of these issues is the culprit:
1. Texture and tone. More than what someone is saying, listen to how they say it. Are they seemingly irritable or paranoid about a certain topic? Try to figure out why and propose an answer to their problems. Better yet, try to lead them to it and let them answer the question themselves.
2. Hitting the wrong “sy-LAH-ble.” Do they emphasize details of something that perhaps don’t seem critically important? Are they fixated on that issue? Then ask yourself, “why?” and try to provide a solution.
3. Upside down syndrome. Do they see the reverse angle of an issue? Do they say you’re going to a meeting with a person who didn’t call the meeting, but will be a strong presence in the room? Perhaps they’re worried about that person. Help them get comfortable with the idea by collecting and presenting all the knowledge you can before the perceived confrontation goes down.
4. Lack of clarity – or too much. Do they use meaningful or meaningless language in communications? Catch phrases or jargon? Do they get right to the point when talking about something or do they over-wordsmith emails and memos? Try to help them see that clear and concise is better – even if that means taking a stab at doing more of the work yourself and handing them a finished product.
Peeling back the layers of a person’s priorities and thinking process can sometimes be as easy as listening and paying attention to their words. Sometimes you just run up against crazy – but most time it’s just fear and self doubt. Help them get through it and you’ll be helping yourself in the process.