64 years ago, Russian leader Nikita Krushchev and head of the Soviet Union during the Cold War addressed the Western ambassadors at the Polish Embassy in Moscow. He told the ambassadors, “Mi vas pokhoronim”. The American news reporters seized the phrase without properly translating. The literal translation, “We will bury you” was spread like wildfire across the United States. A fire that would cause the rubber band to stretch even tighter in the Cold War tensions between Russia and the United States. What news reporters failed to realize that Russians used idioms much more casually and commonly than in the U.S. Kruschchev’s idiom, “mwi vas pokhoronim” actually comes out to, “We feel bad about your ignorance, but it’s your funeral, not ours”. Although not tactful, the phrase that brought tensions to an unprecedented high was a mistranslation.
Your challenge this week is to ask for clarification, if something comes off the wrong way, ask that person immediately if you’re “getting this right”.
This can easily come off as aggressive, so be cautious. But if something someone says seems a little off base, ask them! Clarify! A mass amount of the time the way people phrase things is not meant offensively. As a leader, the last thing you need is a chip on your shoulder. So encourage clarification and clear communication in your team!
Material for Nikita Khrushchev translation and story is from author, Michael Laroque.