Monday, July 4, 2011

Cereal Killer

Ok. I admit it. I am a self confessed “cereal killer.” I have been since as a teenager I could devour a whole box of Cheerios at one sitting. If you were hearing this admission rather than reading it, this would be a very concerning blog post. This phenomenon happens all the time with the English language and even worse when communicating with someone whose English is a second language.

It happened one time when I was mentoring a young Chinese born manufacturing professional as I and asked her if she “ever planned to enter a cleaner side of the industry?” Her reaction was obvious and I came to learn she thought I was insinuating she might enter the dry cleaning industry. It happened internationally a couple weeks ago when the words “blame” and “hold accountable” were used interchangeably. They definitely have difference connotations in the United States. The funniest wording mix-up I’ve heard came from a friend that publically said she forgot her “pants” instead of “trousers” while in the UK. That brought a lot of smiles.

Have you learned from an important mistake? Does it happen within the United States too?


anna said...

I came to the United States as an exchange student and for the longest time thought that the expression dog eat dog ("ruthless competition") was a cuddly, cutesy term (doggy dog).

Unknown said...

This a good one John. This happens a lot in the United States. Between generations, ethic groups, subcultures and the list goes on. Here is an easy one: Holiday, I think of holiday as a national holiday. Others consider holiday a vacation, time away. :o)

StayInformed said...

This post hits real close to home. I strained a realationship with my former Chief of Police when I could not think of the name of one of his special Internal Affairs investigators. He had two guys that worked together on investigations and they were mirror images of each other and could have been brothers and they were always on the same page. During a discussion, I could not recall which one I had spoken to so I harmlessly( or so I thought) said, "you know Chief, it was either Frick or Frack. My Chief was never able to get over this perceived slight of his investigators so much so that our relationship was strained for years to come. I was taken aback by his offense to my commment, but the following Wikipedia definition says it all so now I understand..... -"Frick and Frack" has become an English slang term used in two ways. One is to refer to two people so closely associated as to be indistinguishable; the other way is as a term of derision for any two people, on par with calling one person a "Bozo" or three people "Stooges".[2]

Ouch, sorry Cheif.

Balu said...

This happens regularly in India where we have nearly a thousand languages and dilects. Use of some frequently used words and terms are viewed differently in other regions making it difficult to converse in our mother tounges at times. The option there is to speak the local language where possible or a neutral language (English or Hindi) to ensure there are no misunderstandings.

John Bishop said...

Thank you for some great examples. I've done most of them.

Rajat said...

I think the leadership lesson here is to communicate effectively when not dealing with people with the same background as yourself (globally or within the US, or dealing with diversity of any kind). Speak slowly, minimize slang, pause often and ask if you are making yourself clear. As Americans (esp in in American companies) we assume that silence by the other party means they understand and agree... often, they don't understand but are not willing to interrupt with "dumb" questions. A leader's job is to bring others along, and its much harder when dealing with diverse teams.

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