By Tim Hayes []

Across the shiny conference table with the lovely floral arrangement tastefully set to one side, sat my boss’ boss, who used to be my direct boss. 

This colorful, polished, highly intelligent woman had brought the organization’s Corporate Communications group into crack fighting shape through her insight, her unerring eye for talent, and her alternatingly charming, fearsome, and inspiring form of leadership.

I loved working for her.  Think “Margaret Thatcher” at her mid-1980s peak of power, poise, and personality with just the right touch of thrilling hair-trigger righteous anger ready to be unleashed.  Wow, what a rush!  Those were some of the best, most motivationally rich years of my professional life.

Yet there was one habit this amazing iron lady had that made me absolutely crazy.

I recall sitting in her office across the conference table one particularly late evening.  Some major announcement was coming up, and my job was to develop a key component of the overall communications plan, probably a speech for one of the executives.  She was giving me some direction and background information, as I diligently took notes.

But then, because her day was far from over – even though it was after 7 p.m. by this time and she probably had four more meetings after mine – she stood up mid-thought, sort of shooed me out, and said the words that no writer wants to hear:

“Oh, you know what I mean.”

Uh, not really.  That’s why I’m here, to find out precisely what you mean.  But the meeting was over, so what’s a staff writer to do but to go back to his office and try to reason out what she meant and hope for the best.

Now, keep in mind that this episode happened some 15 years ago, when I was young and foolish and easily intimidated.  I didn’t have the professional bones back then to hold my ground and insist that she complete her thought, as I would – and do – today. 

So the next draft went upstairs and it was closer to the mark, but still not “what she meant.”  Which required another meeting across the conference table, shoe-horned into her impossibly crowded calendar.

What’s the lesson here? 

For those imparting information to communicators entrusted with creating the messages to carry your plans forward – take the time or make the time required to convey that information fully and sufficiently. 

For writers and those receiving this information – have the guts and the confidence to stay put until all of your questions have been answered and you have the complete picture needed to do your job properly.

Oh, you know what I mean…right?

Copyright 2010 Tim Hayes Consulting and Transverse Park Productions LLC