The essence of communication.

We talk about work over dinner all the time, especially now that Stan holds a full-time job. So we were discussing the ways bosses communicated, and it sounded like a good topic to expound on.

The human language, I was telling Stan some time ago, is a flawed communication tool. Everyone holds different definitions on the same word, especially when it applies to work. For example, the word “okay”. What exactly does it mean? Does it mean you have the task all completed a la “okay it is all done”, or does it mean “okay I am working on it so bear with me for a while”?

Therefore, it is absolutely essential that real effort be made to establish proper grounds on mutual understanding, so that there is no misunderstanding, and subsequently disasters and firefighting.

Coming from the perspective of a superior, it is even more important that you understand the language of your people. Forcing your own definitions of a word down to everyone else is one way to get it done (albeit a dictatorial style that I dislike), but the important thing is to come to a common understanding on work definitions.


If my administrator told me “okay” when I asked him on the progress of a server setup, I would not hesitate in asking for an exact explanation of the situation, leaving it as a vague response is not acceptable. Also, I would have discussed the way he responded, and suggested that he reply with a focus on getting a coherent and easily understood answer across, rather than an ambiguous answer that left plenty of question marks.

I for one, would not force people to use my definitions.

For example, using “completed” meant the task was completed with nothing outstanding”, whereas “ongoing” meant the task still had outstanding points to be cleared. Language is a fluid tool, and it is simply senseless to apply a chokehold on the way others speak.

I would be equally pleased if my guy had told me “it’s all done, nothing’s left out”; the response is clear enough without potential for miscommunication, while avoiding the need to adhere to a dictionary of forced work jargon. The idea here is to be able to get the point effectively across, without a compulsory reliance on keyword definitions.

Moral of the story? Communication requires effort, and having a sense of responsibility towards the meaning you are trying to convey. Work at it, and things should go a great deal easier at work.

2 thoughts on “The essence of communication.

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