Let’s talk about words. If I say “ruby” to someone at a jewelry store, I’m going to get something very different than if I say “Ruby” on GitHub. Shared vocabulary is a prerequisite for any successful conversation.
It’s your responsibility both as a speaker and as a listener to get clarification on words/meaning. But how do you ask for clarification without seeming like a jerk?
With customers and important third parties you have to exercise judgment. A prospective customer says they’ll get back to you “soon.” What on earth does that mean? You can say, “That’s great. Shall I follow up with you in a week? Two? What would suit you best?” If you get a flustered pause followed by a vague non-committal response, you know you have more selling to do. If your customer says, “Oh, I’ll need two weeks to get this past my CFO who’s wrapped up in closing the quarter”, then you have a much clearer idea of where you both stand.
Let’s say you give your difficult boss a draft document and she says, “I just hate it, do it over again.” That’s not remotely helpful, but you have to be careful about not poking the bear. You can try, “I’ll get right on it. What did I miss in this version that you want to make sure I capture in the second?”
Patience and diplomacy are required as you search for clarity, but mutual understanding will keep you from falling into the drama of unspoken, unfilled expectations later on!
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