I love it when my dog tilts her head in obvious confusion and wonder about something I say or do. She doesn’t pretend to understand and act naturally as though to say “Oh yeah, master, I hear ya; been there, done that.” No, she just puts her confusion out there for the world to see with an obvious head tilt.
People need to do more of that themselves when they don’t understand. Oh, I don’t care if you actually tilt your head and try to look like a confused dog or not (although that would make for unmistakable body language to help the less perceptive), but I do care that attempts at communication succeed. Pretending you understand when you do not helps nobody.
While body language or tone of voice may well communicate lack of understanding, it may be necessary at times to be more obvious and ask for clarity’s sake. How many business meetings have ended with people nodding their heads and then walking out the door only to ask their coworkers for clarification later because they were too embarrassed to admit before others they didn’t understand something? How many times have we acted on some understanding that was actually a misunderstanding, resulting in time wasted or unnecessary tension in relationships?
Communicating effectively is more important than silly pride that sometimes gets in the way of asking for clarification. You can save yourself a lot of time wasted going down a wrong path if you first get a clear picture of the path expected. Backtracking always wastes valuable time.
I confess that there are times when I fail to ask clarifying questions, especially if it seems like everyone else in the room fully understands. Who wants to appear to be the dunce? Yet, I have learned that making sure communication is complete and effective trumps the temporary risk of not looking as smart as you want others to think you are.
Thanks, Callie, for tonight’s head tilt that resulted in leap year lesson #333 – Don’t pretend to understand when you don’t.