Spotting Trouble Quickly

I was asked: “In a discussion. How do you tell when someone knows what they’re talking about if you yourself don’t know the subject matter at hand?”
I felt it was a great question. Here’s my response:

When a person begins talking on any subject as if they know the most intimate details. Yet, no matter what question is posed, they immediately start referencing vague terms or speaking in jargon as if you (or everyone) should know what all that jargon means, while giving off the vibe of “talking down” if they have to explain it. Look out!

A person that knows a subject usually can tell when another person is on par with their understandings or not. Jargon is used heavily between peers. However, people trying to explain their positions or ideas are usually more than aware if the people they’re discussing with are on their same level of understanding in their “jargon.”

Far too often heavy uses of jargon (or vague terms) are used as a form of cover to make someone sound more “intelligent” or more “in the know” than others. Anybody on – or having anything to do with Wall Street is notorious for this. “You made 1 basis point.” As opposed to: “You made a penny.”

In a discussion, if you’re the only one (as an outsider) as opposed to a group that works in the same field (as in rocket scientists) you’re probably going to feel left out of the conservation. That’s an understandable circumstance, and sometimes unavoidable – it’s called life. However, more often than not (if they’re polite minded people)  someone will say something to the effect “Sorry about all the jargon.”

However, when you’re sitting one on one with someone or, in a situation that doesn’t resemble an in-house water cooler discussion. And the jargon is flying faster and heavier than a jumbo jet. This should be your first clue something is just not right. Trust your instincts that someone just might be trying to buffalo you or everyone within earshot. Or, they’re just jerks. (both should be treated about the same in my book)

What you never want to do is what far too many will:

Start acting and talking as if you understand everything being said in some attempt to quell some feelings of insecurity or inadequacy.
Don’t do it! (con-men look for just this and begin to grin)
Politely ask for something to be clarified if you need to know. If not: Lips tight – listen only.

You can more often than not spot trouble quickly, while possibly being remembered as one of the most intelligent people in a discussion by keeping ones mouth closed, at the right times.

© 2013 Mark St.Cyr