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Is the meeting on Monday or Friday?

Recently I watched several talks from Lera Borodistky, "how language shapes the way we think". She is a cognitive science professor and her explanation about our perception of time and how this influences our thinking is enlightening. A much-debated sentence also during my business years is: "Next week Wednesday's meeting is moved forward 2 days". The answer is not straightforward and ambiguous. Some will think the meeting is on Friday and others say it will take place Monday. Neither answer is wrong but can cause confusion. Question is are you seeing time as an object or are you the one moving in time.

If you say "we approach the deadline", time is stationary and you are moving towards the deadline, so you are moving towards the future. If you say the deadline is approaching rapidly, You see time as the object that is moving towards you and you are stationary. So, if you see yourself moving in time you would think the meeting is on Friday. If time is the moveable object you would have thought the meeting takes place Monday.


Bottom line is that it is better to avoid using move forward at all and just be very specific about when the delayed or brought forward meeting will take place.


I tried to find other ambiguous sentences in a business context where perception plays a role but to no avail. A frequent ambiguity in business creating lots of discussions is that in current complex and matrix organisations the blurring of roles brings a lot of uncertainty and ambiguity. The related challenges are analysed from a psychological perspective and business effectiveness, rather than providing a neurological rationalisation why a phrase is perceived differently.


From a linguistic point of view, there are many books and theses written about ambiguity. Lexical, one word in a phrase changes the meaning, or syntactical a whole phrase can be interpreted in different ways.

The linguistic approach opens up a whole array of other subjects from puns, humour and writer's character descriptions intentionally open to different interpretations. Equally interesting, but this is another subject.


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