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What comes to mind when you hear the words “brown bag”? Perhaps you picture a scene from a movie in which the town drunk is huddled with a brown bag containing a “hidden” bottle of booze. Maybe you think “more mandatory learning on my lunch hour – NO”.  And maybe you panic remembering “I forgot to make sure my child had lunch packed today”. On a positive note, maybe you think “I’ve saved myself money by packing my own lunch and am eating more healthfully because of it.

Whatever images come to mind with the phrase brown bag, you’ve been stimulated to think about what words and phrases mean. A sales skills workshop years ago put us through an exercise to learn about the meaning of words. The directions: “Write down what the word TRUST means.”  Interestingly the answers ranged from “I believe this person” to “a bank account set up for the use and future use of a family member.” With immediate clarity we realized that different pictures come to mind even when contextually we think the word means the same thing to everyone in the room.

Meaning can change based on context, tone of voice, points of view of listeners, the immediately previous conversational content, and more. Meaning matters because without shared meaning we are less likely to be reaching for the same goal achievements. Word meanings matter because of the thoughts, ideas, and emotions that come to mind for every listener and the resulting action or inaction that follows.

To confirm that you understand the meaning of what someone is saying, consider these options.

  • Is what you are saying…….(and you paraphrase back what you’ve heard).  This is a longstanding communication tool. However, it does not always work. When it doesn’t, my favorite words are:
  • I’m not following you. Please say that again in different words so that I make sure I am understanding what you are saying. This approach immediately provides you with a second opportunity to hear the speaker and hopefully figure out the meaning of the statement or request.
  • I’m not following the text thread. Can we schedule a phone call to sort this out live-time?

Clarification options abound. Discover the one or ones that will work best for you and keep using them. The goal is to reach shared meaning that is actionable.

What’s packed in your brown bag? What can you safely unpack and leave behind? How will you confirm word meanings in the future?

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