A World of Difference: Clear communication vs Lukewarm statements

By Noelle Patno

God spat out the lukewarm. He was very clear there was no place for the lukewarm in His Kingdom.  For most of us, that’s typically where the matter ends.  Stand up for principles that matter, don’t be a doormat, and get on with life.  But as a young professional, I’ve begun to notice how often “lukewarmness” infects our daily interactions, workplace conversations and, sadly, even enters into important life relationships. The results? Stagnating and unnecessary confusion.

“Let’s do lunch”

The phrase “Let’s do lunch” has become so commonplace as to be barely noticed these days, and yet… How many people actually follow-through after saying “Let’s do lunch”?  What does that even mean?  Are you inviting me to lunch? Or are you indicating I should follow up and make sure it happens? 

Maybe I’d really like to meet you for lunch and get to know you better. How do I communicate that without sounding too forward. What if I respond, “Sounds great!” … now what?

In an age of disposable relationships, the suggestion of “let’s do lunch” seems so vague as to ultimately mean nothing. 

It’s completely noncommittal. It’s a statement, not an invitation.

Remember invitations? A carry-over from the good old etiquette that a desired action required clear communication, exhibited by something like, “You’re invited to a bridal shower at 3 o’clock pm on Saturday, the 22nd of July, at 4532 Drury Lane.” The modern version is the Evite, in case you were wondering. Or even a Facebook invitation.

An invitation could be as something as basic as, “Do you want to do lunch with me sometime?” At least it gives the person the chance to respond. The speaker is interested in listening to what the other person has to say – the speaker gives the listener space to respond.

On the other hand, “Let’s do lunch” implies we’re already working together – Are you speaking for me? You and I are two separate entities. Respect the boundaries; recognize the free will of the other person.

The take-away: Confusion

Perhaps the greatest difficulty is the ambiguity of responsibility…and the hint at putting the burden on the other person, in the guise of sharing the “burden” of scheduling the lunch.

Clearly, when I ask you a question, the ball is in your court to respond – or not.

In contrast, the lukewarmness of “Let’s do lunch” doesn’t indicate any desire to do it. It doesn’t even ask if the other person wants to “do” lunch.

Is it sloth if I do not ask a direct question, or if I intentionally leave out mention of a specific day, time, and potential location? Is it dishonest of me to make such a suggestion, when I have no real plan to follow-through or to offer a real location and time that would work? Am I just leading you on in some way?

Or, does it indicate that I hope that we’ll have lunch sometime but I’m not really interested in making the effort so I’m just going to suggest it with complete ambivalence as to whether “it happens” or not?

Is being direct and asking questions too scary because of the fear of rejection?

Asking a question shows that I’m interested. It indicates I’m asking for a response. I want to know something from you. I respect you enough to give you the opportunity to tell me what you think instead of me assuming that you would want to meet me for lunch or have any participatory role in planning the lunch.


How about if the next time someone says, “Let’s do lunch,” I respond, “How do you suggest we do that?”

In the above response, it puts the ball back in the court of the person who brought up the idea. After all, isn’t it always the case that if you’re the one to bring up an idea at a group meeting, you have basically volunteered yourself to do the job?

It makes a huge difference in business

Clear communication is at the heart of not only effective plans with friends but also critical to efficient business operations. The lackadaisical “let’s do lunch” networking does not use a targeted approach to further any business endeavors and build relationships.

Precision Q and A (Questions and Answers) is an effective framework to approach clear communication, such as go/no-go decisions, seeking clarifications, checking assumptions, finding causes and effects and identifying actions to take. Precision Q and A by www.vervago.com is not designed for building rapport or brainstorming; it’s designed for efficient communication.

Just for the record, I am not paid to advertise or endorse; I’m merely grateful since I first heard about Precision Q and A at a Society of Women Engineers meeting in 2011 and I’m proud to acknowledge that it’s out of my alma mater Stanford!

How does one learn this wonderful skill? The resource mentioned above provides a concise set of notes someone took at one of the Precision Q and A workshops.

The preparation, courage, intellectual commitment and integrity behind using Precision Q and A skills parallels the patience and fortitude that a virtuous Christian would undertake. It’s the kind of efficient communication we need in the business world, in making real plans and commitments, and in being decisive.

Business writing in particular requires clarity and no nonsense.

“Let’s do lunch” has been blacklisted as a thoughtless “boilerplate phrase” used on “autopilot” by Professor Bryan A. Garner.1 That’s a great reference to consider when thinking of the completely pragmatic approach to better business skills. Instead of going on autopilot, using tools like Precision Q and A can assist in communicating with clarity.

Make a difference! It’s our vocation as Catholics and Christians

Love is patient, yet sometimes our patience can be tried with inefficient communication. We can help others by educating them in better ways of communicating and by modeling it ourselves, all the while persevering with fortitude and forbearance as we move past any flakey behavior of the “Let’s do lunch” crowd. So I invite you to visit the Precision Q and A tools and resources and build effective business communication.

My Invitation to You

Would you like to meet me for coffee on August 25, 3pm, at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf at the Irvine Spectrum in Irvine, CA, to discuss how Precision Q and A can be shared with more people in the business world?

If your answer is an ambivalent, lukewarm inexplicable “maybe” or “ok…”, consider yourself “spat out.” And if it’s not a “YES!,” then please let it be a “No, thank you.” Of course, if you don’t respond at all, don’t expect me to be there, just to be clear.

I further invite you to email me with your answer or other feedback at npatno@stanfordalumni.org, or simply comment below or on the Catholic Business Journal facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/TheCatholicBusinessJournal/

1 Askew, Tim. https://www.inc.com/tim-askew/61-words-and-phrases-to-expurgate-from-business-writing.html Accessed July 14, 2019.

Noelle Patno is a vibrant Catholic young professional, an alumni of Stanford University who graduated with honors and distinction in Chemical Engineering (B.S.). She made a radical shift in her career, however, after overcoming colon cancer just three years out of college. Returning to college for advanced studies in medicine and nutrition, she earned a PhD in Molecular Metabolism and Nutrition from the University of Chicago. Noelle now works in product development and research at Metagenics in southern California. She is also a Latin ballroom dance competitor and organizes, teaches and hosts the OC Catholic Dance by the Sea. She is reachable at npatno@stanfordalumni.org.

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