My favorite question: What does that mean to you?
If we are having a business-related conversation I will probably ask “what does that mean to you?” more than once.
I’ve learned the hard way, that words don’t always mean the same things to everyone. MVP (minimum viable product) is a word coined by Eric Reis of The Lean Startup fame and it’s a bit of headache for me because there is such wide variation in the ways people use it. Roadmap, release plan and story are also used differently. But it’s not just industry terms that cause confusion; words like engaging, social, intuitive and personal can mean different things.
Early on I explain to clients, prospects and my teammates that it’s important to me that I understand their point of view and vision. To do this right I need to ask questions they think I know the answer to so I can ensure we are on the same page. I find people are very receptive to this because they want to be heard and understood.
If an idea receives a strong negative reaction asking what something means is a good way to see if there is disagreement on the idea or the words used to describe it. I’ve been guilty of this one so I always try to probe a bit more before responding (don’t always succeed but I try).
Lastly, if someone uses a new, trendy word asking “what does that mean to you?” is the best way to save face.
Image: A painting I did years ago experimenting with folding paper. To me it looks a bit like a Rorschach test.