Relative Sanity

a journal


We've all been in that call when someone uses a bit of jargon, or some word that summarises something technical. They realise what they've done and decide to clarify, remembering that the biggest barrier to communication is the illusion of it:

So we need to display all the articles that are approved… we all understand what "approved" means here, right?

Nods and general murmurings of agreement abound.

I can guarantee everyone just made a huge error.

We all know what "means" means. Right?

Note that the question above does nothing to check that everyone's understanding of the word "approved" is actually the same as anyone else's. It's implicit, of course, but does nothing to actually surface this.

If you have five people in the call, and they all have different understandings of what "approved" means, they can all quite truthfully say "yes, I understand what 'approved' means". And then they all go and act on their own internal understanding.

Weeks later, a bug is uncovered and everyone wonders how it snuck in. They even minuted the call. They all agreed!


Of course, the solution is simple. Whenever you have a situation like this, act dumb. If someone's checking everyone shares a definition, just ask someone to share theirs. You don't have to go round the room and check, you just need to say "sorry, I'm new here — can I just have someone explain to me what 'approved' means here". If the person explains and nobody else jumps in to correct or challenge, there was no disaster to avert.

I've never seen that happen. Neither will you.