5 Things to Do When You Don't Understand

A serious, practical guide for maintaining your carefully crafted work persona.

Prepare a list of generic questions and statements that sort of make sense regardless of context.


  • “You’re breaking up, I couldn’t hear what you just said.”
  • “I didn’t get your email, could you explain the problem we’re trying to solve here?”
  • “I think we’re running over, let’s end this call.”

Immediately incorporate the new words you just heard into your vocabulary.

The sooner you start using the same words as everyone else, the more they’ll think you understand what they’re saying.

Further assert your dominance by questioning their understanding of a phrase they just used.

Assign blame to missing attendees.

Avoid taking responsibility for not having gathered the right group of stakeholders by declaring that the meeting can’t move forward without someone. Then shunt all action items onto them.

Better yet, ensure you always have this option by deleting someone who responded “Yes” from the invite.

You can’t be called out if no one can call you.

Turn off your Slack status, set your email auto-responder, and block off prime meeting hours with multi-hour “Deep Work 🧠” sessions. No one will know you don’t understand anything if they can never speak with you.

Bonus points for using an OOO event and auto-rejecting any meeting invites.

Use crafty phrases to avoid taking hard stances.

Weaken any written stance you have to take with such phrases as “This feature may or may not improve revenue” and “It is not strictly necessary, but still acceptable, for us to scale in the cloud.”

Happy April Fools everyone! This post was inspired by brilliant, now infamous “10 Tricks to Appear Smart In Meetings” by Sarah Cooper. If you want a good laugh, check out her entire site!


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