I’m an avid reader of Mrs Moneypenny in the Financial Times’ week-end magazine and her last article in September made me start to think about conversations. Mrs Moneypenny always talks about her children as Cost Centres and it would appear that Mr M has now started his retirement and in her article, he is now referred to as the new Managing Director of Moneypenny Inc.

Communication means ‘the imparting or interchange of thoughts, opinions, or information by speech, writing, or signs’, but when did you last sit quietly and listen to the conversation of others? As a coach that is exactly what I do. I sit quietly and listen to my clients, colleagues, friends, and/or family. In doing this I have become aware of how each person I talk to describes their own family. Mrs Moneypenny refers to her husband as ‘Mr M’, whereas I have heard husband’s described as ‘my husband’, ‘my bridegroom’, ‘my other half’, ‘my groom’, ‘my man’, ‘my partner’, ‘my spouse’, ‘my better half’, ‘man of the house’, ‘significant other’, and a variety of other ways. A number of these descriptions can also be used to describe a wife – ‘my other half’, ‘my partner’, ‘my spouse’, ‘my better half’, ‘significant other’, or you might hear a wife described as ‘my wife’, ‘my ball and chain’, ‘babe’, ‘bride’, ‘helpmate’, ‘my woman’, or ‘my girl’. Children according to Mrs Moneypenny are described as ‘Cost Centres’, but how do you describe your children? – ‘baby’, ‘boy’, ‘girl’, ‘family’, ‘kids’, ‘juveniles’, ‘teenagers’, ‘minors’, ‘toddlers’, ‘flesh and blood’, ‘nippers’, ‘son’, ‘daughter’, and I can remember my mother calling me ‘duck’.

If there are so many ways to describe one person, how many ways are there to describe anything? I’m sitting in my office in Madeira and looking out over the Atlantic – is it an Ocean or is it a Sea? There are various definitions of the word ‘ocean’ – the vast body of salt water that covers almost three fourths of the earth’s surface – any of the geographical divisions of this body, commonly given as the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, Arctic, and Antarctic oceans. Whereas the word ‘sea’ is described as ‘the salt waters that cover the greater part of the earth’s surface.’ Isn’t this the same description as the first one that we had for ocean? Other descriptions for sea include ‘a division of these waters, of considerable extent, more or less definitely marked off by land boundaries: the North Sea’. In answer the name of the body of water that I can see from my office is the ’Atlantic Ocean’ which has a single definition of an ocean bounded by North America and South America in the Western Hemisphere and by Europe and Africa in the Eastern Hemisphere; but how many people when approaching the Atlantic to swim in say ‘I’m off to swim in the sea’?

One of the reasons for this is that often we are brought up in different environments. I was born and brought-up in Central Africa. A number of my friends from Europe were born and brought-up in different parts of the UK and with the local colloquialisms of the UK, this can add to the confusion. I know that over the years I lived in the UK I’ve had to change the way I say things; then when I phone home or return home I have to change back to the language I learnt as a child – my own version of English. An example of this confusion can be demonstrated by the simple activity of a barbeque – in the UK you will hear people talking about ‘barbeques’, in Australia they’ll talk about ‘barbies’, whereas in South Africa you’ll hear people talking about ‘braais’. In the same way that the expression ‘just now’ in South Africa has a very clear meaning (it means sometime in the near future but not immediately (although it can also mean in the immediate recent past). If I say ‘just now’ to an English person they would not understand the South African interpretation and may take it to mean ‘in a moment’; whereas using the South African definition I mean ‘sometime soon-ish’.

As we move around the world and we travel – from one area of a country to another, or from one country to another, or from one continent to another – it’s not that surprising that our conversations can get confused. We then add into this local/regional colloquialisms …! In my examples without the local/regional colloquialisms, we may all speak English, but when you are listening to someone talking, how do you really know what they are talking about? How do you really interpret what they are saying? When they use a word or phrase that for you has a very specific meaning, do you interpret what they are saying by using your own definition and understanding or by their definition and understanding? More frequently we will use our own definition and understanding, and where this is not what they mean, the conversation that you are having may not continue as smoothly and easily. In the business world with so much terminology this is often where confusion sets in. As we have had to do in the coaching world, by learning to acknowledge and appreciate that the words or phrases the other person is using may have their own interpretation, we learn to question the meaning of words and/or phrases before assuming that we know what they mean. What would happen to your conversations if you were to take one step back and having listened to the words that were used, question them if you are not absolutely clear on what is being said?

In the next article we’ll discuss how to progress what you captured when you rated your dreams.

© 2010 Barbara J. Cormack
First published under Cormack’s Capers in Magna Intuitum