Can asking “What does this mean?” make a difference?

Yes, it can.

In a communication program design project I worked on, we went through the usual steps to understand the requirements. This is so that we’d know what exactly was the message that CEO of the organization wanted his people to understand. We got what we needed, naturally, before the end of the meeting, but we always ask that one last question – “What does it mean to YOU to be a member of this organization?” – his voice, body language & facial muscles shifted. In answering the question, what came across was his energy & strength of conviction in the organization, his role in achieving its purpose & how he found meaning in his work.

I find that whenever we connect any design decision process with the meaning of that decision at a personal level, the right kind of energy flows -the kind that moves concept to idea to model to plan to pilot & finally to deployment of something that we can touch & feel. To young consultants, I say to you: be brave. Be direct even, when asking questions. Some questions that can work with different people could include:

  • “What does it mean to you, to make this decision?” – for the decision makers
  • “What does it mean to you, to have this decision made?” – for advisors / influencers
  • “What does this decision mean to you?” – for people on the receiving end.

Remember – you’ll get the most value out of your questions after you’ve built rapport with the person(s) in your discussion. Otherwise, you’ll end up facing a brick wall at every question mark.

In the case of the project above, we included a video message from the CEO. The video carried the CEO’s voice, words, facial expression & the earnestness of his purpose. We designed a communication workshop around it, to get everyone to learn about the future plans & what they need to do in order to achieve the goals.  Tough journey? You bet. Tough goals. More the reason for the team to know that everyone will pull their weight & soldier on.  Because the message centered on what it means to be part of that organization, people felt they belong. They became more open to the way forward & what’s expected of them. Naturally, there will be those who feel this is not what’s for them & leave – but thanks to clarity of thought & communication messages, the decision to leave will be a more informed one.

As for me, the content designer & developer: the project re-connected me with my purpose in life, which is to design stuff that help people work better & find meaning in their days.

So yes, asking “What does this mean?” does make a difference.


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