Lost in Translation? or buying a Lemon?…

Following on from my previous blog, the ostrich effect (link below), I continue the story…

Foreword: I am not a psychologist in anyway shape or form and I am not pretending to be one; in this blog I am simply grappling with a relevant business subject and asking the question ‘When to push for an answer/response and when to walk away?’

Speaking at Cross-purposes

It occurred to me, during a business meeting a couple of days ago, that in business it is common to be ‘Connected to colleagues by the task at hand’; we move from one objective to the next aiming to complete that said task in the most expedient and beneficial way for that of our associates. In essence, that’s it. We do something and move on to the next thing that requires our attention, but what happens when that task doesn’t happen and we can’t close the loop?

Speaking at cross purposes, misunderstanding ones point of view, to underestimate the gravity of a situation etc…it appears there are many ways to explain confusion or misunderstanding associated with a situation.

I recall many occasions where I have witnessed people discussing a topic, both socially and professionally, only to realise later that each individual engaged had a different view or position on the said topic; clarity isn’t always straight forward. Now add another dimension of the two sets of individuals speaking different first languages and you multiply the chances massively, or at least it appears that way.

In the situation of the Ostrich effect, sticking ones head in the ground and hoping it goes away appears preposterous. How can we fulfil the task if we simply ignore it? Or hide? I suppose it depends on the severity of the need associated with the task; in that, if it is a simple email response about ordering some pens, then the world won’t stop if you don’t answer, but if it’s more important such as providing financial information necessary for the recipient then it just isn’t acceptable to ignore the request.

But here’s my point, what if the question being asked isn’t the correct one? In that the person asking the question uses the wrong phrase or terms and the recipient doesn’t truly understand the originators request?

Ability to Answer the Question

Knowledge and experience are common expectations of a good manager, knowledge of being in a situation and experience of handling it successfully are prerequisites for a manager and certainly part of the training package.

I recall my management training from my days in retail, which looked to place me in situations where I could learn how to deal with certain aspects such as customer interaction, sales training, employee reviews, cashing up etc. the list goes on; I would then conduct the task improving as I went until I was well versed in how to do it effectively. Once I was proficient I would be able to train others and be available should they need assistance.

But what has this to do with the ostrich effect? Well if you ask for financial information i.e. year-end accounts and the recipient doesn’t understand what a balance sheet is, or how important it is when considering a profit and loss and cash flow then you are likely to be disappointed with their effort.


Now, this does not negate the fact that you would expect the manager to have the necessary knowledge for the position they hold, but this may not be the case; many managers who come from corporate backgrounds will not be exposed to such financial information, why would they (?) it won’t mean anything to them, what does make sense to them is a sales pipeline, budget and forecast sheets etc. So asking for analysis from the profit and loss statement seems Double-Dutch, they simply don’t know how to go about the request and their ego might not allow them to say “I need help!”

We still live in a world where people are promoted because they are good people with nice personalities; in fact I actively advocate the ‘recruitment of personality, then the training of the necessary skills’; however, [and this is a massive point] the training often gets forgotten. This leaves an unskilled manager to manage aspects where skills are required.

Aid Needed

In effect, the recipient doesn’t understand the question or its implications? So, if this is the case then we can help them get to a position of understanding, but they aren’t likely to admit to this immediately.

How often have you heard a senior manager state “I am sorry I don’t have the knowledge (which they know they should have) to do what you ask”. I have rarely seen this happen it tends to be a far more gradual affair, where short comings become evident over time and correction can be taken to fill this knowledge gap.

So there might be a reason, not necessarily a valid one in your mind, why the said individual isn’t responding? Add to these associated circumstances such as distance, time zones, day to day demands, different languages and regulatory work practises and it is easy to put such a request to the back of the queue.

Or perhaps there is a desired act to not fulfil the request?

A Bitter Pill…

Naivety?  – lack of experience, wisdom, or judgement’ or an excuse, even worse a lie?a statement that the stating party believes to be false and that is made with the intention to deceive’

So in review, there is ground between ‘the question and the answer required?’ In my opinion, Yes, but this is assuming that they want to answer the question in the first place and are acting with the best intentions. What if they use this slant to avoid answering the question? Perhaps they do have the knowledge to answer it but won’t, because they have a reason not to? Such as, the answer will open up questions about their ability or it will uncover a lie?

In my experience this is an incredibly hard situation to manage, and can use a lot of emotional energy along the way…

But How Do You Know?

Firstly, you will probably get the feeling that something simply isn’t right; it might come quickly, but more likely it may appear over a period of time. In fact, we use many sayings to describe this situation such as ‘I had a gut feeling, it leaves a bitter taste in your mouth, led up the garden path, benefit of the doubt…’ these descriptions indicate a sense of ‘something just not being right’. You should listen to your internal self, it is a tool you have trained over your life time and invariably it is a good indicator of situations.

Secondly you should acknowledge that ‘you will question yourself extensively prior to arriving at such a position of being lied to’, but the tell-tale signs will be there to support your gut feel; According to Business-insider UK, body language is a dead giveaway. The site explains ‘Behavioural analyst and body language expert Dr. Lillian Glass, who has worked with the FBI on unmasking signals of deception, states when trying to figure out if someone is being dishonest, you’ll need to pay careful attention to their facial expressions, body language, and speech patterns ” (link below). Take a look at the ‘10 signs is someone is lying to you’ below.

Exploring this topic further is beyond the reaches of this blog, but further information on dealing with this and some good suggestions on preventative measures can be found on American Express.com (link below).


bi_graphics_10 signs someone is lying to you

Source: Business Insider UK


So avoidance of a given request or question could be something other than just avoiding the situation, as in the case of the ostrich effect:

  • It could be they don’t know the answer, but are not willing to say so due to pride.
  • They don’t understand the question or the requirements due to a lack of knowledge, experience etc.
  • They are choosing not to tell you, as this will uncover another personal or business problem?
  • They are lying? For any amount of reasons to avoid dealing with the truth.


Whatever the reason, this doesn’t help the enquirer. But perseverance will prevail. The answer, in my opinion, is to go back and ask the question in different ways direct and indirect, supportive and autocratic dependant on the need. All the time explaining to the recipient that this situation is escalating in need, but always informing that you are willing to aid where I can.

Emotional intelligence, the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others [Google.co.uk], is imperative to managing such situations. This will allow you to identify knowledge, experience, understanding needs of the request and facilitate the answer or fulfilment of the request.

*All comments are based on my personal experiences and given freely. That said, you need to make your own choices. I can’t and won’t accept liability for you employing any recommendations. Business is all about risk. It’s your choice.

Nigel stone has, over the last fifteen years, started, led, consulted and nurtured both UK and European businesses to achieve quite outstanding results. Please feel free to drop me an email at ns@leadersp.co.uk

Links used in the article:


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