Your boss uses the following words in a meeting: sanction and temper. Did you raise your hand and ask, “Excuse me, but I am confused about your sanction comment; does that mean you approve of it or we are to boycott it? And then you told us to temper our comments, so do you want us to soften them or strengthen them?” Or, did you think to yourself:
- No way am I going to risk advancing my career by questioning my boss.
- I am going to let someone else fall on the sword and ask the questions.
- Hey, I’ll find out later what my boss really meant.
- Not a chance in the world will I ever point out to my boss they just used a two words that have totally opposite meanings.
How employees handle this dilemma is a very telling sign as to the leadership qualities of their boss. I believe if no one says a word, then we are dealing with a difficult person to work for; a boss who might be best described as a mean, belittling, oppressive, and over-bearing person. If that is the case, a roomful of employees just walked out of the meeting having no idea which definitions they should use.
What if you are a global company, with multiple languages being used to communicate. The “context” of what was said (or written) can easily get lost in translation. The next thing you know you have employees moving in opposite directions all thinking they are doing the right thing, which is a true formula for disaster.
Our English language is riddled with puzzling words that are potential traps for confusion that can lead to problems. The examples I used in the first paragraph, sanction and temper, are called “Contronyms”, which are words that have contradictory meanings. Another area of confusion can stem from the use of “Homophones”. A homophone is a word that is pronounced the same as another word but differs in meaning, and may differ in spelling. The words may be spelled the same, such as rose (flower) and rose (past tense of “rise”), or differently, such as carat, caret, and carrot. Other examples are … break / brake … blew / blue … by / bye / buy …fair / fare … hear / here … witch / which … and … would / wood. In fact, the list of homophones is quite extensive. So, for you scholars out there, I have a short quiz for you; all the answers are homophones so let’s see which ones you can answer.
Example: If four couples went to a restaurant, how many people dined?
Answer : eight ate.
- 1. What would we do if we found bad plants spoiling our lawn?
- 2. What would you say in the evening to a soldier in shining armor?
- 3. What are groups of sailors on an ocean pleasure trip?
- 4. What is a group of musicians that isn’t allowed to play?
- 5. If they are not here, where are they?
- 6. What is the name for a weird street of shops that sell incredible things?
- 7. What do you call a bucket that has seen a ghost?
- 8. If a devil is completely sinful, what is an angel?
Can’t you sea that the answers to these questions are as plane as the knows on yore face.
In a world of global communication, when a click sends a message for all the world to see,
may I suggest you choose your words wisely, or what a fool you could appear to be.
Leaders who confuse people, aren’t Leaders for long.