Meetings are tough places to get things done. There’s a lot of ego involved. When smart people are trying to work on a problem things can get lost in conversation and translation.

Some people sit in meetings with big vocabularies, some have vast experience, some are there to occupy space and others aren’t entirely sure what they are in the meeting for at all.

My least favourite type of person in a meeting is that guy who insists on using big words to get across a simple point. This makes him look and feel smarter than everyone in the room. At least that’s how he feels. I’m especially cautious with people in a profession that can hide behind big words, like lawyers or accountants. You know the type, I’m sure.

Any accountant or lawyer who can’t talk to me about what they do without using their unnecessary industry jargon irritates me. They’re showing off and trying make me feel dumb. They are most certainly not trying to get the work done efficiently.

Someone once wrote:

Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid. *

I’m weary of people who hide behind big words. They’re trying to make you feel stupid and make themselves the genius in the room.

Whenever I’m in a meeting and someone uses a word or acronym that I’m unfamiliar with I immediately stop the meeting and ask what it means. I may feel like I’m being the dunce in the corner, but without fail, someone else will enthusiastically nod their head wanting the same explanation.

The first time I learned this lesson I was working at Vodacom South Africa and someone said “MSISDN”. I sat in the meeting for the next 45 minutes having absolutely no clue what everyone was talking about. That acronym stands for: Mobile Station International Subscriber Directory Number (MSISDN). The translation? A CELLPHONE NUMBER. The person in the meeting was talking about the customers cellphone numbers.

Thankfully that day I learned that it’s best to act like the dumbest person in the room and ask everyone to clarify their unnecessarily big words. Sure, if you want to be part of a team, then you’ll have to get to know some of the lingo but don’t use it when it isn’t needed.

My favourite part of being the dumbest person in the room is discovering how little everyone else knows. Often when I ask people for the definition of a big word that they have just used, they don’t know what it means either or can’t explain it.

In the end, the best you can do is be open about the things you don’t know.

Turn your lack of knowledge into a desire to learn and to be taught in meetings.

No one can mock a hunger for knowledge.


*I’m not attributing this quote to Einstein because the origin of the quote isn’t entirely clear and can’t be traced back to him. 


Also published on Medium.

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