No, That Doesn’t Make Sense
We are all in agreement that we, as women, need to stop apologizing, right? We covered the subject here, and we aren’t the only ones who believe that women undermine ourselves when we constantly apologize as a conversational tool.
Now that we have that out of the way….Okay, we probably don’t. It doesn’t take one article and an afternoon to change a lifetime of behavioral habits. We have to concentrate on our interactions and slowly cut the self-sabotaging behavior out of our daily lives. Maybe we should have accountability partners? One-step programs? (Step One: Don’t apologize when you’re not at fault). In any case, we recognize that this process will take a while, but the results will be empowerment, promotions, higher salaries, fame, and perhaps induction into the engineering/construction/marketing/Girl Scout cookie sales Hall of Fame. Aim high.
So, while we’re on the subject of behavioral changes, we might as well address another very current issue that has infiltrated our ranks. When was the last time you said, “Does that make sense?” Probably you had just laid out a new program for your company. Or maybe you were explaining to a client why his wall just fell over. Perhaps you were politely outlining to some mid-level cookie manager why helping your daughter sell Girl Scout cookies is important but cannot be the priority in your day. The possibilities are endless.
Yes, you just realized that you’ve used this phrase six times in the past four hours. But wait, you say, isn’t that just being polite? Am I not just acknowledging the other person’s need to understand and giving him/her the option of admitting that the subject isn’t completely clear yet? Isn’t this sensitive and inclusive and all those other things we accuse men of not being in the workplace?
The lesser answer is yes. Absolutely, you are a more effective communicator if you give another person the opportunity to ask for clarification. You are exchanging ideas, not lecturing. You are being a good consultant/contractor/cookie manager. Obviously you are not doing your job well if the other person doesn’t understand what you are trying to say. This is why I once seriously disciplined a junior engineer when he said, “Hey – we’re not English majors,” after I told him his report was unclear and poorly written. (Yes, there was also the issue of being disrespectful to his boss).
The more far-reaching answer is no. True, acknowledging the listener’s ability to understand is critical. But the wording is flawed. “Does that make sense?” subtly implies that the delivery was insufficient or inadequate. Even worse, it suggests that maybe the reasoning is incorrect. Once again, we put the burden on ourselves, suggesting that perhaps we screwed up in explaining the situation or even in coming up with the idea. This question usually is accompanied by uptalking and passive approach, which are problems for another day. But all of these tactics fall in the same category, the catch-all that says we are so grateful to be at the table because we know we aren’t really qualified. While it is true that professional situations could benefit greatly from a more inclusive approach and less testosterone-fueled lecturing, modifying longstanding communication practices should not involve undermining our credibility and value.
A secondary reason why we should exorcise this phrase from our vocabularies is the fact that is used constantly. Just like hackneyed corporate training devices like “That’s a great question,” these words lose their effect when they are used every five minutes for every situation. (No one believes you think they have had a great insight when you have said “That’s a great question” to every other audience member/meeting attendee for the past 30 minutes, as has everyone for the past 10 years. Just stop).
As alternatives, perhaps we could say, “Do you understand so far?” Or even “Do you want me to clarify any of this?” If you are giving a presentation without audience feedback or filming a video, JUST DON’T SAY ANYTHING. You’re smart. You’re a professional. Put it out there, and deal with questions or arguments if they appear.
I will confess to being a repeat offender in the “Does that make sense?” category, and I am on a mission to go cold turkey. I would request that all of our Underpinnings members do the same. I am happy to have Self-Sabotage Support meetings and accountability sponsors, as long as cake is involved. If you hear me say the phrase in conversation, you are hereby authorized to command me to give you a dollar. I encourage you to give your co-workers similar instructions. We can do this, together. It does make sense.