The whaty-what of what?

questionmark_200Drop in on any conversation between commissioners and you’re likely to hear something like this:

So I was at Pack 123’s JSN. The CM was hoping for twenty new members but the CC said they only got fifteen. That’s good, considering the TAY at that school. There were a couple adult apps so the COR took care of them and said he’d hook up with the DE. We just need to make sure their YPT gets done. Their JTE is looking great and we’ve already scheduled a FOS right before their PWD.

Scouting is like almost every other venture in that it has its jargon and abbreviations that are common internally but bewilder outsiders.

Scouting differs, though, in that we also have a steady stream of outsiders joining our ranks, to whom the above conversation might be as incomprehensible as reciting the alphabet backwards.

Sometimes, what is meant to facilitate conversation ends up impeding it, and nowhere is this more of an issue than it is with our new volunteers. But even those who have been Scouters for some time can get tripped up by the terms and abbreviations we sometimes use when talking to each other.

As a unit commissioner, I need to be aware that often the people in the units I take care of aren’t as well-versed in the language of Scouting as I am. Commissioners, especially, need to explain things in as clear language as they can. If we don’t, the people we’re talking to might react in the way one stakeholder did in a story told by corporate consultant James Sudakow:

I was recently in a meeting where an operations VP looked at the team presenting and asked: “What the heck is a WIIFM?”

All of us change management nerds knew it meant “What’s In It For Me,” but it was assumed that he knew as well. He didn’t.

Another client was working on a project formally called the MSP VMS ACA Initiative. I could see one of the stakeholder’s head cock as he muttered to himself: The whaty-what-what initiative?”

It all boils down to saying things without conveying meaningful information, which stands in the way of much communication, both at the corporate level and in our dealings with Scouters. We tend to assume that the other person is as well-versed in what we’re talking about as we are, but that usually isn’t the case.

In Scouting, the problem can extend to many levels:

  • Professionals have processes and terms that are their own, because they deal with things the volunteers don’t.
  • Commissioners, district chairs and committee members, and trainers talk to unit volunteers. We need to assume that the other person doesn’t always know much about what we are trying to explain.
  • Unit leaders are familiar with the processes and practices of Scouting but often lose sight of the fact that the parents aren’t. New parents often don’t know the difference between a Bobcat and a Tiger or between a den and a pack.

It’s important to communicate in common language if there’s any difference in the experience level of the person you’re talking to. Put yourself in their shoes and use words and phrases that make sense if you don’t have the same perspective. Do unto others as they need done unto them, as the article suggests.

In an age of rapid, convenient communication, we often are on overload. The best way to get the message across is to make sure the message can be understood.


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