The art of being vague.
Being British I now realise having moved to the land of Lederhosen and Sauerkraut almost 15 years ago that the Brits can be so painstakingly vague sometimes! We use phrases like, “See you at 2ish” – which would be a cardinal sin for your typical punctual type. Or worse still, “See you later”, when in actual fact there are no plans at all to see each other later that day – yup I have to raise my hand to this one. I used to do this. One glance back was enough to make me realise my mistake, as that panic stricken look upon my client’s face looked back at me as they frantically tried to remember when or where that was going to be and why oh why hadn’t they written it down? My vagueness sent them spiralling into the realms of self doubt – that dreaded fear of having screwed up and the associated navel gazing guilt trip that goes with it.
In a product development situation I have seen the Americans and the Brits driving their German team members and to some extent their Austrian counterparts to their wits end as their vague language has exposed many more questions than answers and putting progress on hold. So rather than breaking something down into measurable useful chunks that helpfully demonstrate that we are getting somewhere, you’ll hear terms like ‘testing is moving along nicely’ – I mean, “What the heck is that supposed to say?” Now call me cynical but that could mean just about anything – politicians say that kind of stuff all the time, now does it sound honest and assuring? No not really.
So let’s talk about how to get the specifics out of the ‘vague smooth it over’ types? Now it might seem a little condescending or rediculous getting your clients, colleagues or freelancers to answer specific questions but if you are going to move out of the foggy arena of guesswork into the safe haven of assurance, asking for specifics is going to be your only way forward. After all, as the Germans say, trust is good, but control is better.
Try some of these for size…
“What exactly do you mean by ….(repeating their phrase)?”
“So when you say “…” do you mean that….?”
“Has testing begun already or not?”
“How many programmers are…?”
“Will we be ready to (insert the appropriate verb) on (date)?”
“Is there anything at all causing a delay?”
Pin em down honey, because it is better to be depressed about progress than dazzled by dodgers!