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If you are a naturally expressive or casual person, you need to be careful when using colourful, casual expressions in business presentations – especially with idiomatic expressions that are understood by one group but easily misunderstood my other people.
I was recently training multi-cultural communication in Singapore and I used the example of “pulled the pin”.
To many Australians – this expression means that something has stopped – that it is not going to proceed. The expression originates from pulling the pin that connects the tractor and the plough. To stop work – to disconnect
An American in the group said he thought the expression meant the opposite – that a project was committed to happen – as when you have pulled the pin on a grenade – you need to proceed and throw it. You are committed!
As you can see – two opposite meanings. The use of this colourful,casual expression could cause serious confusion in a business presentation.
Sometimes miscommunication can be caused by generational as well as geographical differences. Even “English speakers” can be divided by a common language.
Now you may say – that would never happen in a business context.
Let me tell you – I work with lots of senior execs who are about to deliver serious business messages.
Often it’s the little “asides” or added casual comments that can cause problems.
Here is another real-life example with different meanings.
An exec (in a practice presentation I was helping with ) used the expression: It’s all downhill from here.
He meant it as a positive – referring to bike riding. You work hard to pedal up a hill – then you can coast because it’s all downhill from here.
The expression can have a negative meaning (especially for those who are not used to riding bikes!). It can mean that things will get worse and deteriorate and go downhill!
In a previous post I shared about a South African exec who had people sniggering during his serious presentation. He meant to be referring to signalling warnings with car horns.
The expression he kept using was: Use your hooters. Use your hooters.
Here’s a link to that post – if you are interested.
Do YOU have any examples of idiomatic expressions that cause confusion?
Please share in the comments section below.
One Australian exec shared how she confused American workers when she asked the to put something “in their boot”.
They thought boot as in cowboy boot. She meant the trunk of a car.
It’s often the little things that cause confusion!
Anyway, I better pull the pin and go enjoy the day. It’ll be all downhill from here! 🙂
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These days, lots of people and organisations need help with how to COPE with too much work, too much information, too many meetings, delivering difficult news, business writing, effective e-mail, e-mail overload, cross-cultural communication etc. I like to help people COPE.