The peril of shortcuts in language

Progress in meetings requires four things to be commonly understood and pursued by the participants: A clear objective; a shared process; clarity of roles; and good relationships. The biggest enemy to all of these things is misunderstanding, and this is especially problematic when the misunderstanding goes unnoticed.

It is therefore important for the facilitator to be able to identify where misunderstanding may take place, and challenge any ambiguity in the conversation so that perspectives can be reconciled. One area where this ambiguity can occur is in Fat Words, and this is addressed in a separate article. But another area is in language where we inadvertently use shortcuts.
The following table illustrates common shortcuts that you will hear frequently. But the danger is that the speaker and the listener may have different frames of reference and what may seem obvious to one may be differently obvious to another. To maintain the quality of discussion, listen out for these phrases, and gently ask people to clarify themselves, or to be more specific. If you find that you are having to do this regularly for one or two people, you might make this a part of their personal development. Using specific language helps people to be effective, particularly when working in teams or influencing actions in others.
If the interviewee uses phrases like…
The problem for the final data quality is…
The challenge the interviewer could use is …
Unspecified Reference
…too much…, …too often…, …too…
that a standard or reference is implied, but we don’t know what.
Ask “…compared to what?” or ask for some quantification
Unspecified Nouns
it, they, management, the staff, the others…
that we don’t actually know who is being referred to.
Ask “Specifically, which (staff) … or challenge with “All staff?”
Unspecified Verbs
arrives, comes, force us, communicates…
that it isn’t clear exactly how this happens.
Clarify “How do they (force you)” or “How does it happen?”
Implied Necessity
…can’t, shouldn’t, must…,
that the nature of the barrier, rule or restriction is unclear
Ask the nature of the restriction, or consequences  “..if we did…”
Universal Quantifiers
…never, always, all, everybody…
that these broad generalisations are often invalid.
Explore exceptions, challenge “All?  How can you be sure?”
Assumed Standards
…the right way, It is wrong …
Standard is unclear.  It may just be their judgement or it may not.
Ask “Right for whom?” or “Wrong in what way?”
Verbs transformed into nouns (eg …ion)
ongoing activity is assumed to be ‘static’ in its nature.
Relate back to the verb, and ask how it could be ‘done’ differently
Unspecified Cause
…cause.., makes, keeps…
The reaction is clear, but the exact cause is not.
Ask how they (make) …, or “Why does this happen?”

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