"Je Ne Sais Quoi" : Word Choice and Proving Business Language Fluency

One night last week, after a particularly difficult day, we decided Disney's "Beauty & The Beast" would provide the level of comfort and laughter we needed to be refreshed for the next day. I had forgotten the subtle humor

provided by the cast and enjoyed myself immensely. There is one scene that laughter erupted from me and I could not stop the belly chuckles for at least a full 15 minutes. I MUST share with you all.

The scene I refer to happens when Gaston, played by Luke Evans, is pontificating to best buddy LeFou, played by the talented Josh Gad, over why he is drawn to Belle.

"She's the only girl that gives me that sense of..." , says Gaston.

LeFou responds, " ne sais quoi?"

To which Gaston says: "I don't know what that means."

So, at this point, sound is already emitting from mouth when my daughter, Laurel says to me, "That is literally what that means". At this point I am howling in laughter. My laughter encompasses my entire being, is loud and remains constant for so long that it produces tears! Seriously, check it out because we all need more humor in our lives. And remember before the singing starts that "Je Ne Sais Quoi literally means "I don't know what".

I digress. What does "Je Ne Sais Quoi" have to do with business and language anywhere other than France? Interestingly enough: everything.

All would agree that communication is a key skill across industries and the globe. Every company, team, individual needs effective communication. A quick search with my friend Google shows no less than a dozen fabulous software development comics depicting various stages and levels of communication breakdown. If everyone is so aware of this pitfall, why isn't it improving? Excellent question! (Note: Future Blog Topic Alert: Stay tuned for a blog about Being a Question Jedi Master: The Art of the Right Question at the Right Time).

The short answer is that each situation and party involved in a communication breakdown is different. There are some standard pitfalls though that I plan to address via blogs in coming weeks. (Future Blog Alert: Stay tuned....sooo many blog topics to cover!) Today, we are going to focus on choosing the best words to prove that you are business language saavy.

Preparation: Step 1, Know Your Topic & Audience: Look, I am not talking about knowing your audience's favorite dish, kids names or even their names. I am talking about understanding their role, their interest, their perspective. Are they a manager? Low level, mid or senior manager? Do they have a technology, operations or business team? Are they a true customer, end user, or vendor? You may or may not know all of this information. It is up to you to understand this information to think about before the interaction. I have a flow chart of possible questions available, if you would benefit from it. Contact us at for more information on our available templates

Preparation, step 2: Practice what you are going to say. KNOW it. You probably already know your material... say it outloud. Even if this is a conversation. If you are nervous, practice. I am a veteran at presentations, status updates, worksessions.... Even for a status call or an introduction of myself I have a checklist on a stickie note to refer to. Why? It helps me re-center on my message in a succinct, clear way. Bullet points are written down for me to help me remember the highlights of what I need to say, questions I need to ask, etc.

Observe, Hear, Listen (Or Read) and Respond without emotion (Step 3): When we launched our company website last month, we were so excited. I sent the website address to family and friends everywhere. One reply from my seventy-something year old Uncle made me chuckle. "Very Nice! I don't know what all of that means, but nice anyway. Love, Uncle" I thought: "Bless his heart. He is being supportive of whatever it is that I think is an accomplishment and is sharing my joy. He has no idea what I'm talking about though." And here is an important thing to note: He didn't ask. It isn't important to him. I sent him a hug emoji back and let it go. Two weeks later, however, he sent me a text and asked me to call him. He wants me to help him with a little project for some additional income. So, you never know. Personally, it is not something that I would do for myself. However, I am listening and hearing his ideas in order to build a plan and execute the plan for him. In this sense, he is my client. We will let you know how it goes when the project is complete.

Build your knowledge and ask questions to grow further (Step 4): When asked if I am bilingual, I have often joked that I am fluent in Southernese and Redneckese. I grew up in rural South Carolina... I have an accent. In all seriousness, I speak insurance, risk, software development, project manager, business user, analyst, tester, manager, operations, some coder and architecture. These are all roles that I have played over the years. The meaning of some of the same words are different in these different groups. I only wish I was kidding with that last sentence. Context is everything and we are all a composite of our experiences. Here is an an example.

Imagine you enter a room and hear someone say that they are "Done" with a building the website. What would you assume at this point?

Some would ask, "What is the website address?" .

The website address is provided. "I don't see it. Something is wrong".

The reply from technology would more than likely be, "There is no defect. It's not live yet."

Do you see what happened there? I have seen this happen repeatedly. If I had a quarter for every instance, I would be a billionaire. Context.... important.

Important Note: Even when someone reports that software code is "live and in production", it may not be visible to all users. Why? With today's expanded technology and the Agile methodologies in place, only part of the entire experience may be ready and therefore, it is not configured and visible to any and all users. This is an important concept discussed in ScrumMaster and Scrum Product Owner training classes. I'm happy to refer you to the BEST Agile Trainer around. Message us to learn more.

"Testing, Tested, Test" are other tricky words. If you are not familiar with the process that is being followed, it is valid to ask for confirmation of which test phase. Smoke test, unit test, system test, user test, automated test, pre-production test... the list goes on just like the kinds of shrimp Bubba's Momma cooked in Forest Gump. Knowing the culture of where you are will dictate your follow up question to a statement of "we are testing". Get familiar with the culture! In the meantime, do not assume the function you have been patiently waiting on will be able to be used in a day or two - or even next week. I digress, again. Sorry, folks - I am passionate about this.

As you observe the culture, the people and your surroundings, make notes to yourself about the process itself, backgrounds and roles your team members play and the terminology used! At a former company of mine, I literally started a glossary of terms for my new hires. Our industry and company was littered with acronyms and phrases that meant something crazy (to my mind). I started that reference list/glossary for myself and built it over the decade I was with that company. Try to think like your teammates, if you can, and ask solid questions to learn more.

Google is your friend, so is Webster's dictionary and a Thesaurus. I am serious. If you are unsure, look it up. This step will allow you to change "What do you mean?" to "Are you referring to ...." (any reference point) "or (second reference point)?"

Lastly, once you are confident in the terminology being used, take the added step to use the correct term when engaging with others. Put forth effort to be succinct and clear. If you are working with an Agile team (and I sincerely hope you are!), talk the talk! Sprint, Epic, Velocity, Review, Stand Up, Backlog, POFATABA. Show NO FEAR! And if you find yourself in a tornado of questions, "Je Ne Sais Quoi" is always a fabulous phrase to use!

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