My granddaughter has come to Australia to obtain her English proficiency so she can attend an Australian university. So many of our English words have a variety of meanings, and we use slang or colloquial speech to create a word picture so the listener can get a clearer sense of what we mean.  

One of her vocabulary test questions was:  Give the definition of ‘competence’ and use it in a sentence, making it very clear what competence means:

She was so competent she looked up the meaning on her iPhone and came up with this definition, which she copied-and-pasted and then added a few words of her own to make a sentence.

Competence – The ability to perform in a given field to the standard required.  The quality of being competent; adequacy; possession of required skill, knowledge, qualification, or capacity: 

He hired her because of her competence as an accountant and paid her sufficiently to furnish the necessities and modest comforts of life. She had sufficient income to live well and a sufficient quantity of all things for her needs. 

This is how the dictionary actually read: “the quality of being competent; adequacy; possession of required skill, knowledge, qualification, or capacity: 

He hired her because of her competence as an accountant.

  1. an income sufficient to furnish the necessities and modest comforts of life. 
  2. sufficiency;a sufficient quantity. 

I read her definition and sentence and said to her: “How easy it is for us using the English language to misunderstand, or add to, or misconstrue a meaning when we are in conversation with someone. If we assume we understand, then we can discover ourselves in “deep water”!

She asked me “what is deep water for a competent accountant?”  How do we explain that?  

In my coaching practice I see this happen in a variety of ways when we are in conversation with our partner, our teenager or our co-worker. We think we know the correct definition of a word, but the listener has a different one…. This is where the vulnerability in relationships can begin to crack and, over time, the breach is like the Grand Canyon.

This is why it is so important that before we assume we understand, a good conversationalist will repeat back in their own words what they thought the other has said. This way we don’t fall into the trap because we thought one thing and he thought another, but in reality, neither of us was thinking clearly! Listening requires us to feel empathy toward the other person and to speak in such a way that no misunderstanding can occur, nothing can be added by innuendo, and no one goes away wondering what the person really meant by what they said.  If in doubt, ask for clarification so you don’t find yourself in deep water with a modest accountant!

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