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When In Doubt…

Continuing my never-ending quest for self-improvement.

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My mother-in-law recently returned from a two-week trip to Florida. We picked her up from the airport, drove her home, and stuck around for dinner, and all the while she told us of her adventures in the Sunshine State. More often than not, they involved the word “Lanai.”

“We had drinks out on the Lanai.”

“Usually, she just goes out to the Lanai to smoke, which isn’t too bad because she closes the sliding glass door.”

“This time, it didn’t feel so hot in the Lanai.”

When it came time to leave, as soon as we got into the car, I turned to my wife and asked, “What the heck is a Lanai?”

What I did know is that you could be “on” or “in” a Lanai, and that it has a sliding glass door. I had a good guess, thanks to context. My wife, who heard her mom say the word enough in phone conversations during the previous weeks, took the time to look it up, and was prepared.

Basically, it is pretty much what we refer to here on Long Island as a “Florida room.” It makes sense that they would not call it that in Florida — all their rooms are Florida rooms — but it was said so matter-of-factly, and often, that it was assumed everybody knows what a Lanai is, so I kept quiet until we got to the car.

This is not new for me — keeping quiet about a word I should understand, but didn’t. In my early, pro audio reporting days, I was interviewing a very famous producer about the console he was using, and he kept describing how he loved the “detent” of the console. Like a lot. So much so, that I felt he knew I had no idea what detent was, but I kept grunting in the affirmative that he should continue onward.

Turns out that detent is just the clicking feeling a knob makes between stops. After learning that, I was sure he knew I was clueless.

I have mentioned my never-ending quest for self-improvement in this column before, and this is one that fits that list: When in doubt, ask. But it is not as easy as it sounds.

Even recently, I have been on manufacturer calls with other journalists, speaking with product managers who are very deep into the gear they make, and when I hear some jargon I don’t understand, my assumption is that I should, but then one of my fellow journalists will ask about it, and it will turn out that it was quite acceptable — and often expected — that we would be unfamiliar with the phrase. Still, I was hesitant to ask.

As usual, when trying to fix myself, I imagine the worst-case scenario, where the pro I am speaking with would mock, “How could you not know that?” Which would suck, no doubt, but be survivable. But that has never happened — everyone has been very gracious in their explanations, even going deeper with appreciated patience when it takes a little longer for it to click with me.

I am getting better, and I mention this here in the event it is helpful to you when speaking to other experts, or as a reminder that you hold a wealth of knowledge that you can impart either with graciousness or disgust. I am a big fan of the former.

That’s enough for now; I’m going to enjoy the fall weather on the Lanai.*

* For summary purposes only — I do not actually have a Lanai.