“I Don’t Know” and “I Need Help” are important admissions to make. Now here is #3 of our six-part series…

I Don’t Understand

“Yearn to understand first and to be understood second.” – Beca Lewis

Years ago I worked for a division of Marriott in the customer service department. Our offices sat above a large warehouse and trucks delivered dry and frozen goods to Marriott hotels and other clients (such as Outback Steakhouse) throughout the Bay Area. Vendors were always vying for our attention, and as a result, one day we received a visit from Douwe Egbert and the entire customer service department was taken down to their fancy van to sip coffee and listen to their presentation.

As I sipped my coffee, liberally dosed with creamer and sugar, the representative kept using the term ‘liquid coffee’ over and over as he described his product offering. No one said anything and I just sat there confused until about the third or fourth repetition of the phrase. Finally I couldn’t stand the confusion any longer and I raised my hand. He stopped in the middle of his spiel and said, “Yes?”

Feeling rather dense I asked, “I’m sorry, but you keep saying ‘liquid coffee’. Coffee in this form IS liquid, so I’m a little confused.”

The rep, bless his soul, looked surprised and rather sheepish. He thanked me for my question and commented that he was very happy I had spoken up. He then explained that he had been using a term that described a process that Douwe Egbert had been a leader in developing. They (Douwe Egbert) distill a condensed extract of coffee, keep it free of air or other agents that cause the bitter aftertaste in coffee, and re-constitute it with hot water for a fresh tasting coffee, that lasts longer and stores easily. But they were so used to the product, so used to using those suave terms like ‘liquid coffee’ that until I asked my question, this rep had been telling large groups of clients the same thing over and over. How many of them had not bothered to ask for fear of looking stupid?

Later, several of my co-workers came to me individually and thanked me for asking the question. Each and every one of them admitted that they too had not known what he was talking about, but they had been too embarrassed to ask. It made me wonder just how many of us don’t ask questions, don’t put ourselves out there, for fear of looking ‘dumb’ or ‘asking a stupid question’. How many of us, when given instructions by our boss to do something just nod and then go away and stall on a project, because we don’t know how to do it, but don’t want to appear ignorant by telling the boss we need help?

I am convinced this world would be a far better place if we welcomed individuals to ask questions and reveal our ignorance – our growth as individuals and the knowledge we would gain would far outstrip the momentary embarrassment of not knowing.

Coming next week…“I’m Afraid”