Even when we speak the same language, we may not understand each other. I found that out again recently.
This past summer, I was fortunate to conduct a workshop with some coaches at the West Coast Eagles professional Australian Rules Football team in Perth.
The 20-some coaches and assistants were good sports, willing to take part in a creativity exercise, getting into the discussion and paying attention to a person who was so different from them in many ways. I’m not much of a sports person, and come from a (not quite as) remote part of the U.S. Indeed, Perth has to take honors as THE most remote city of any size in the world. But I do research on how leaders think, especially about creativity — and my research group over the years has included some remarkable coaches. I thought perhaps some of their ideas might help the Perth coaches.
I thought the workshop went well. The coaches were engaged and had fun, we cracked a few jokes, and when we finished, they didn’t fight to get to the door.
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But then, the letdown.
The coach who had organized the session stood up and turned to the group.
“OK, mates. Let’s take a yawn and then we might ask Nancy a few questions.”
“What? Was I that boring?” I was on the verge of being upset that I’d read the crowd so wrong.
“No, no,” he said, “we’re just taking a yawn.”
“But a yawn?” By now I’m sure I sounded a bit shrill.
“Spell it!” yelled one of his colleagues.
“Yawn,” he said, “Y-A-R-N. As in, have a chat.”
“Ahhhhhh. Yarn,” I said.
And so it goes. English isn’t always the English we think we know. My lesson — make no assumptions, even when you think you know.
Nancy Napier is a distinguished professor at Boise State University.