Executive Shorthand for “Sticky Buns”

Posted by Kristin Arnold on September 5, 2011

Most companies provide breakfast when the meeting starts early.  These days, most folks know to have healthy choices that feed into the energy and creativity of the team:

  • Fresh fruit
  • Low or non-fat yogurt
  • Scrambled or hard cooked eggs
  • Whole wheat or multi-grain mini bagels
  • Small bran, oatmeal, banana, pumpkin or multi-grain muffins
  • Whole grain toast or english muffins
  • Low fat granola
  • 100% fruit or vegetable juices
  • Water — plain, sparkling or flavored with no added sugar
  • Coffee, tea (decaf options as well) – served with nonfat or 2% milk

So it was a surprise when Joe and I were working with a client and all we saw were “sticky buns” for breakfast.  You know, the kind of gooey, doughy pastry that will put the entire room into a diabetic coma?  Yeah, that kind.

During the debrief at the end of the day, the VP asked about the sticky buns and why there weren’t more healthy choices.

The meeting planner looked shocked and said, “But that’s what you asked for.  You said you wanted sticky buns!”

“Sticky buns and all the other stuff we have for breakfast!” he countered.

And this happens all the time.  Leaders can speak in shorthand.  They are moving so fast, and expect the people around them to be able to understand them.  Good news is that the more you hang around them, the more you understand the shorthand.

For this VP, “sticky buns” was the same as “breakfast items.”  And the meeting planner took him literally.  All we had were sticky buns, even though the organization typically had healthy choices.

So how do you combat the sticky bun effect?  When the leader (in fact anyone on the team) makes a quick statement – that ‘s a cue that you might be facing a shorthand statement.  Trust your gut here.  You’ll know when something sounds “off” or just isn’t complete.  Then ask a probing question.  “Sticky buns….and what else?”  Then confirm your understanding.  “Yep, we’ll have some donuts and healthy choices as well.”

Sometimes, you have to slow down in order to catch up.

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