Think Like an Editor blog by Steve Davis and Emilie Davis, S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Syracuse University

April 6: Do you ‘really’ not understand?

By · Sunday, April 6th, 2014

For the month of April, our blog will be devoted to polishing
your professional skills.
Everything you need to know about courtesy, manners and common sense.
And we do mean “need” to know.

APRIL 6

You’ve probably heard it said that there is no stupid question. When you have a question, you should ask. But how many times have you used the fallback statement, “I don’t understand,” when you really mean something else. Ask, yes. But use common sense first and be courteous of other people’s time, especially in these situations.

  1. The daydream. In a lecture, an interview or a conversation, sometimes it is easy to start daydreaming and stop listening. Then what? If this has happened to you, it is not always wise to exclaim, “I don’t understand.” Perhaps you are admitting to not knowing something very basic, which makes you look unprofessional. And consider this: Do you know that feeling you get when you are startled awake from a nap? Well, when you “wake up” from a daydream, it usually shows on your face. So you might as well not pretend you didn’t understand.
  2. The stall. Like a toddler who dawdles at bedtime, a person who practices “the stall” is doing the same thing. Is that you? Just know this: Every time you pretend you don’t understand so you can buy time for yourself, you are taking time away from someone else. While you might be dealing with patient people who enable the ploy, you still are responsible for their lost time. And that’s just not mannerly.
  3. The offense. Sometimes instructions are perfectly clear, but a person just doesn’t want to follow them. In such a situation, telling someone, “I don’t understand,” is an offensive move. It puts the person giving the instructions on the defense, having to repeat explanations that were clear from the start. Teamwork takes good offense and defense. So be sure your moves are for the good of everyone on the team, not only for yourself.

Read it. Learn it. Live it.
Be that person.

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