Ever been in a situation when you are in a meeting and someone says something you don’t understand? Most likely, you didn’t ask because you were ashamed of how ill informed you were. Well, contrary to your belief, you are not ill informed but there is just something new for you to learn.
Here are 3 stories of similar situations, one of which is my own. hope you will be encouraged to ask and not feel ashamed.
Story 1 : Woop Woop Story ( aka my story )
September 2005, I have just started working in Australia. I am intimated, nervous and yet determined to succeed in this new workplace. The work environment is foreign to me. People look different, talk different, they do talk in English but not the kind I understand well.
In my eagerness to prove myself in this new place I make contact with all the clients in my portfolio. I want to meet them to trigger a good working relationship. I call Kate from Pfizer and ask her where her office is so that I can visit her for a sales call. Her response, ” It is in Woop Woop.” I tell myself, you don’t know where this place is so just wrap up the conversation, look up the place and then talk about it later. After the phone call, I am looking at Melways ( Street Directory for Melbourne) trying to figure out where this place is. I cant find it. Then I think maybe it starts with V and it is spelled as Voop Voop. In India most people pronounce V and W the same way, and so did I because I am an Indian! I only learnt to pronounce Vet and Wet differently when some young Australian kids couldn’t control their laughter on my accent.
After sometime, I am frustrated because I can’t find this place called Woop Woop or Voop Voop. So I ask a colleague, ” Where is Woop Woop?” Her response, ” There is no such place Anjali! ” and of course she is beside herself laughing.
Later on I realise its not a place, it is a term. Woop Woop is an Australian term meaning far away from anything.
Now, at that point this was funny for everyone but to me it was embarrassing and I wish I had just asked.
Story 2 : C- Level
In her book Dare to Lead, Dr. Brené Brown tells a similar story of the time when she was just starting her speaking career.
She was at the venue to give a talk and when she heard the event organizers talking to the audience, she pulled back a small section of the heavy velvet curtains that separated the green room from the auditorium and peeked out. It was like a Brooks Brothers convention—rows of mostly men in white shirts and very dark suits she says.
She shut the curtain and started to panic. The guy standing closest to her was a young, super energetic speaker and she said to him,” These are all businesspeople—executives. Or FBI agents.” He chuckled. “Yeah, mate. It’s a conference for C-levels. Didn’t they tell you that?” The blood drained out of her face as she slowly sat down on the empty chair
He explained, “You know, CEOs, COOs, CFOs, CMOs, CHROs…”
All she could think was, There is no way I’m going to tell this guy the truth. He knelt next to her and put his arm on my shoulder. “You okay, mate?” She turned to him and said, “They did tell me it was a C-level audience. But I thought that meant down-to-earth. Like these are real sea-level people. Salt of the earth. S-E-A-level.” Through a huge, booming laugh he said, “That’s brilliant! You should use that!”
She looked him in the eye and said, “It’s not funny. I’m talking about shame and the danger of not believing we’re enough.”
Story 3 : Yoghurt Story
In an article recently published in The New York Times titled, Indra Nooyi: ‘I’m Not Here to Tell You What to Eat’ Indra Nooyi talks about her experience of arriving in the U.S. to attend the Yale School of Management. She mentions she was a vegetarian, so she didn’t know what to eat. She needed curd for every meal, but she didn’t know where to get it. Then somebody said: “It’s the same as yogurt. Go get yogurt.”
As you can see even some of the world renowned personalities don’t know everything. My experience of asking has taught me that when I ask, I sound confident.
So, the next time you don’t understand something, please ask, will you?
"I attended your story telling course some time back. And I've enjoyed keeping up my knowledge with your blog. You may not have realised however, that the Whole of Government is implementing Internet Seperation. Hence I'm not able to access the links to read your articles. Could I suggest including a QR code in your emails so that I can use my mobile to scan it and gain immediate access to the article? It would be most helpful"