Give People The Meaning

Avoid leaving them grappling for what you really mean

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We are all meaning-seeking machines: what I mean by that is we naturally go inside our heads when we hear, read, see something and try to put meaning around it. We put context or a framework around something to make it make sense to us.

Knowing that we are all always seeking, naturally, the meaning for us, for others, for a situation in what is happening around us. So, because you’re a meaning-seeking machine, you can help others understand both you, and themselves, more by giving them your meaning. Sometimes it’s actively useful to let others make up their own minds as to ‘what it means’ but more often than not, especially in the workplace, it’s more helpful and time-saving to give people that framework.

‘In other words….’, ‘by that I mean….’ ‘so this will mean….’ ‘or we could say…’.

Can you hear that by using those phrases, which are very normal and easy on the ear, you naturally offer your listener or reader a bit more information? Give them more of an opportunity to ‘get it’.

Too often people take things as face value and nod thinking ‘Hey ho, I’ll have to find out later what that means’ or ‘I’ve no idea what he or she just said but hopefully it won’t matter’. Well it does. It matters a lot when we want to make sure we’re understood and when you’re looking for promotion or more money, we need people to be able to take on our ideas, our opinions and do so easily. It’s simple too.

Everyday, we’re translating what someone has said or written or done and making our own sense of it. Notice the ‘our own’ sense of it. Your sense of something will be different to mine because we’re different, aren’t we? What we can do to bridge that difference is to ensure, as far as we can, that we offer enough information – often said one way and then another way – to make it easy for the other person to understand us. By that I mean clarify or expand a bit.

A prime example of this is when Snowy, my long-suffering husband and life-long case study, says to me something like ‘Oh, XYZ happened today’ and just stops. Immediately, I hear in my head ‘and?’ or ‘because?’ and we’re married. He now knows to give me one more sentence with some context about ‘why’ that happened or ‘what it means’.

What about your colleagues; your team; you boss; your clients wherever they are in the world and however you contact them? They will have the same sort of questions popping up in their heads too. They do and will. So answer the questions naturally up front. In other words give them the meaning – the consequences or the background.

So what does this mean for you? Well it means you’ll get clearer too about what you think something means. For the other person it may mean something else but they’ll understand you more, your point of view, your position. As they say respond ‘and it could also mean’ or ‘actually, I think XYZ’ you’ll find yourselves naturally discussing something that might have just been stated and left hanging without either of you really understanding what you meant to say.

Ideas for you to start working with today:

  • Be ready to use ‘by that I mean’and ‘in other words’ or ‘i.e.’ and those sort of expressions which immediately tell the other person you’re going to make sure they know what you mean – without patronizing them.
  • Noticewhen someone else makes a statement without the context, the meaning – notice firstly if anyone else asks and notice if you automatically ask yourself ‘I wonder what he or she means by that?’ If you think it’s appropriate and there’s time, ask. ‘Can you just tell me a bit more about that please’ or ‘what will that mean, please?’ You’ll tell both the person and anyone else involved that you don’t just take things at face value, you’re prepared to dig a bit deeper, you want to understand and you’ll do it in a natural, inquisitive way.
  • You’ll have noticed the ‘please’ – that’s crucial.To avoid your question being confrontational and to be more about information-gathering, the ‘please’ is not only polite (we already know polite is an easier way to be in the world anyway) but it’s essential. It makes it a request and not a demand. We all respond much more easily to requests and less so to demands, don’t we? By that I mean, requests are desires, and demands are instructions. Which do you prefer to receive?

The least of things with a meaning is worth more in life than the greatest of things without it.’ ~ Carl Gustav Jung

Known as the Savvy & Influential Communication Expert, our Life Labs contributor, Kay White, is hosting a unique 3-day Live Event “Show Up; Sparkle & Be Heard LIVE” in London on 9, 10, 11 June and as a guest of Psychologies, use the code GLITTERBALL and take 50% off your seat.

Let’s make it your time to shine at work without selling your soul. When would now be a better time to go for Promotion, Recognition and Rewards all while being true to yourself?

For further immediate ‘shots’ of inspiration and tactics on showing up at work in a way which gets you heard and understood, try Kay’s Weekly Podcast on iTunes:Show Up; Sparkle & Be Heard . They’re short and snappy and full of tips to inspire and guide you at work.

Kay White

Savvy & Influential Communication for Ambitious Women in Business,