Perplexed

by Ron Potter

We’ve been looking at a text written over 2,000 years ago.  A partial reading of the text says that we are afflicted in every way, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down.

In this blog, we’ll be looking at the second word on the list, perplexed.  Webster defines perplexed as completely baffled, very puzzled.

Some similar words include mystify, bewilder, dumbfounded, and worry.  Have you sat in on a meeting where people are speaking a different language from your own?  Maybe you know a word or two but for the most part, you’re mystified, bewildered, and maybe worried that you’re not understanding what is being said and maybe you should be.

He Was Perplexed

At one point in my career, I spent a couple weeks in the Middle East.  After a few weeks back home speaking English, the only Arabic word I remembered was shukran which means thank you.  I had a client meeting in California and the driver who picked me up from the airport spoke Arabic.  On the 45-minute journey to the meeting site, he was speaking on his phone in Arabic, so I understood virtually none of the conversation.  Upon arriving at our meeting place I politely said shukran for the pleasant ride.  The driver was dumbfounded!  He almost stammered when he asked if I knew the language.  I let him worry for a few seconds then said that shukran was the only word I knew.  The blood returned to his face.  Dumbfounded, bewildered, worried.  You name it, he was perplexed.

Almost every company I have worked with through the years has reduced their conversation to acronyms.  It always took me several meetings before I knew what they were talking about when they used FOMO for “Fear of Missing Out” or some other crazy acronym.  It never bothered me much because I was the outsider.  If I hadn’t figured it out in a meeting or two, I would ask.  However, for those who were part of the team, everyone assumed they knew what it stood for and asking was frowned upon.  They were perplexed.

We Will All Be Perplexed

Once again, the ancient text indicates that all of us will be perplexed at one time or another.  We don’t like being perplexed because it makes us feel uncomfortable or like an outsider.  One of our approaches is to assume we know it all.  We think that we’re not perplexed, and they don’t know what they’re talking about.  We tend to write them off as lost, faking it, saying things that seem profound but are really covering up their ignorance.

This is a dangerous approach.  We must be humble enough to ask, to display our ignorance if necessary.  We may get that original rolling of the eyes, but if we do sincerely ask what we’re missing, it may give us the opportunity to share something we know and actually help the situation.  The rolling of the eyes will quickly turn to respect and trigger good discussion.

Overcoming Being Perplexed

The best way to overcome or avoid being perplexed is to ask questions.  Be humble and sincere but ask the question about your perplexity.  Often, we’ll find out that each member of the team may be referring to something slightly different from the other team members.  They’re also perplexed but may not even recognize it.  Good questions lead to good discussion.  It’s interesting that the solution to being perplexed will often lead to the solution for affliction, which is united discussion about good solutions.

Have you ever noticed that the person who leads to the most innovative answer is the young person, the new person, or the person whose knowledge is in an entirely different area?  They don’t know that they don’t know and therefore ask some of the most profound questions that lead to innovative solutions.  They are perplexed, so they ask questions to cure their own perplexity but that can often lead to a more interesting discussion.  However, once that person has been around long enough to know “how things are done here,” their perplexity is either gone or kept silent.  Those profound questions no longer come.  This is a dangerous place to be.

Encourage perplexity!  As you work your way through being perplexed, great discussions can happen that lead to a much better understanding by everyone and may even come up with some great innovative solutions.

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JOHN R GROVER February 17, 2022 - 1:02 pm

Ron – thanks for this. Can identify with the situations you cite. Important, as you say, to remain humble. My belief is that is the posture where people learn the most – through humility.

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